An ebook about girl power, girls' school stories
and the future of reading in an electronic age

© Ju Gosling 1998

Black and white illustration of a group of old-fashioned schoolgirls, clustered excitedly around a gramophone player

View the accompanying film below:

More about this hypertext cluster
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Virtual Worlds of Girls was first published online in September 1997, linked to the website of London’s first internet café, Cyberia. Here it was immediately reviewed in The Times and The Guardian, and its author Ju Gosling was interviewed by Hari Kunzru on Sky TV's The Lounge. Ju submitted the work to the University of Kent at Canterbury for a PhD in Communications and Image Studies in January 1998, and presented it at a number of academic conferences. In the years since it has received more than a million hits.

Virtual Worlds of Girls explores the 20th-century genre of girls’ school stories – their history, fans, parodies and meanings. Throughout the century, the genre represented the most popular reading choice for English-speaking girls from across the UK and Commonwealth, and as such the books and their reception tell us a great deal about girls' influences and choices across several generations. Dismissed then as being of little interest because they are popular fiction written by women for girls, the books are all the more interesting for it now.

The work is accompanied here by a one-hour film, The Chalet School Revisited, looking at the books from the perspective of the adult women who continue to collect and read them today. However, when the work was first finished films were still distributed on tape; even the initial vision of a CD of the website and a 'video disc' of the film together in one case took another ten years to achieve. The film premiered in its own right at the Lux Cinema in London in November 1998, distributed by Cinenova. It was described by Roland Keating, then Editor of BBC2's Bookmark series, as: 'A remarkable illustration of what the latest technology makes possible*, and an enjoyably informative documentary in its own right.'

*The film having been shot by Ju Gosling on hi-8 video tape using a palmcorder and edited by her on a Mac.

Virtual Worlds of Girls also explores the form of the book itself, offering multiple reading pathways through its pages as well as combining text with still and moving images. It was the first major hypertext to move away from a standalone, software-specific platform to make use of the universal language and accessibility of HTML and the internet, exploring the form of a humanities research textbook in an electronic age. The technical language is of its time, as is its navigation system, which uses arrows in different colours to denote different types of links rather than simple underlining. (At the time, no one predicted that readers would be happy to live with simple underlining to denote a hyperlink.)

In 1998, the world was largely disbelieving that the Web would ever play a major role in our lives – in fact, the University itself had grave doubts about whether future readers would be able to access the work, and the author was only finally awarded her PhD in 2001. How times have changed!

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Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just 3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for 20 inc UK postage and packing. Book cover