Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children's Literature

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<ul><li><p>ARTFUL DODGERS</p></li><li><p>This page intentionally left blank </p></li><li><p>ARTFUL DODGERS</p><p>Reconceiving the Golden Age of Childrens Literature</p><p>MARAH GUBAR</p><p>12009</p></li><li><p>3Oxford University Press, Inc., publishes works that further</p><p>Oxford Universitys objective of excellencein research, scholarship, and education.</p><p>Oxford New YorkAuckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong KarachiKuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi</p><p>New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto</p><p>With offi ces inArgentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France GreeceGuatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal SingaporeSouth Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam</p><p>Copyright 2009 by Oxford University Press, Inc.</p><p>Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016</p><p></p><p>Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press</p><p>All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,</p><p>electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.</p><p>Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataGubar, Marah, 1973 </p><p>Artful dodgers : reconceiving the golden age of childrens literature / Marah Gubar.p. cm.</p><p>Includes bibliographical references and indexISBN 978-0-19-533625-2</p><p>1. Childrens literature, English History and criticism. 2. English literature 19th centuryHistory and criticism. </p><p>3. Children in literature. 4. Childhood in literature. 5. Adolescence in literature. I. Title.</p><p>PR990.G83 2008820.9'928209034 dc22 2008024308</p><p>1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2</p><p>Printed in the United States of Americaon acid-free paper</p><p></p></li><li><p>To Kieran, with all my love</p></li><li><p>This page intentionally left blank </p></li><li><p>PREFACE</p><p>There is something odd about the way scholars treat the Golden Age of chil-drens literature. On the one hand, the unprecedented explosion of childrens literature that took place from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century has been accorded immense respect, as the Golden Age moniker indicates. Indeed, it would be diffi cult to deny the importance of an era when writers such as Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie penned famous fantasies that continue to be read and recycled into new forms to this day. Yet the same authors who have been given the most credit for making the Golden Age golden have simultane-ously been censured for producing escapist literature that failed to engage with the complexities of contemporary life and promoted a static, highly idealized picture of childhood as a time of primitive simplicity.</p><p>This familiar (and still circulating) critical account underestimates the rich-ness and complexity of Golden Age childrens literature. To be sure, like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and other Victorians writing primarily for adult audi-ences, childrens writers from this era sometimes invoke an ideal of innocence inherited from the Romantics. But far from being the worst offenders in this regard, they frequently complicate, challenge, ironize, or interrogate the art-less Child of Nature paradigm. It is time, in other words, to let go of the idea that Carroll and company failed to conceive of children as complex, ac-culturated human beings in their own right by regarding them either as lost selves or alien Others. On the contrary, celebrated childrens authors from this era frequently characterize the child as a collaborator who is caught up in the constraints of the culture he inhabitsjust as older people areand yet not inevitably victimized as a result of this contact with adults and their world. By </p></li><li><p>entertaining the idea that children might have the ability to cope with, defl ect, or even evade adults efforts to control or oppress them, these authors react against Dickensian plots that imply that youngsters who work and play along-side adults (including the so-called Artful Dodger) are not in fact inventive or ingenious enough to avoid a sad fate.</p><p>Part of my goal here is to insist that we accord the Victorians the same kind of respect the Romantics have recently received by recognizing that their represen-tations of children are just as diverse and dynamic as their predecessors. Much good work has been done recently that acknowledges there is no such thing as a singular Romantic Child, since authors such as William Wordsworth vacillated quite dramatically in their stance toward youth. Yet the notion that the Victorians avidly latched onto, simplifi ed, and sentimentalized Romantic discourse about childhood continues to enjoy widespread support. In an effort to illustrate how much nuance and variation there was in the Victorians stance toward children, this book contends that two concurrent, intertwined phenomenaGolden Age childrens literature and the cult of the childmust be reconceived to refl ect the fact that many of the male and female artists who participated in them were confl icted about the issue of how to conceive of children rather than fully com-mitted to a particular ideal of innocence. Moreover, far from being oblivious to the possibility that adult fantasies about childhood might impinge on children, the Victorians and Edwardians frequently manifested a high level of critical self-consciousness about the whole problem of representing, writing for, looking at, interacting with, and worshipping children.</p><p>One diffi culty I ran into in the process of trying to make this argument was that the nineteenth-century cult of the child has often been referred to but rarely described in any detail. While articles on individual authors such as Car-roll and John Ruskin sometimes identify their subjects as members of the cult, I could not fi nd a single study that fully defi ned the parameters of this phenom-enon. Going back to what I assumed was the foundational scholarly account, George Boass The Cult of Childhood (1966), I was amazed to discover that he spends fewer than three pages discussing the Victorians and Edwardians, never mentioning Carroll, Ruskin, and many other artists who are now commonly associated with the cult. Boas does not linger on this period because he treats the cult not as a social trend that originated in a particular historical moment but as a doctrinal group to which anyone at any time or in any place can belong, as long as they subscribe to a form of cultural primitivism whereby the child replaces the noble savage as a paradigm of the human ideal. Indeed, reading The Cult of Childhood is a pleasure precisely because Boas so effortlessly ac-cesses a diverse range of sources, from French and German texts to English and American ones, from Plato to Norman O. Brown.</p><p>Yet Boass theory of a transnational, transhistorical cult of childhood does not adequately account for the particularity and complexities of the newly </p><p>viii preface </p></li><li><p>intense obsession with childhood that numerous scholars assert originated with the Victorians (even though they decline to fully articulate this argument or provide a detailed list of participants). Thus, even the brief catalogue of nineteenth-century writers that Boas generatesDickens, Eliot, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Henry Jamescomplicates his characterization of the cultists as united in their adherence to the notion that contact with adult civilization will despoil the childs primitive purity, since sev-eral of these authors were at best ambivalent about the idea of exalting the inno-cent otherness of children. Sensitive to such waverings and distinctions, the most brilliant and infl uential theorist of Victorian child-loving, James R. Kincaid, has proposed that we drop the whole concept of the cult from our critical conversa-tion: The image [of the innocent child] does not seem to me all that common in the nineteenth century, propaganda about the cult of the child notwithstanding (Child-Loving 73).</p><p>I strongly agree with Kincaids point that the Victorians did not wholeheart-edly embrace the ideal of childhood purity, but I want to resist his suggestion that we should therefore dismiss the cult as an unhelpful categoryan injunc-tion that has surely contributed to the critical silence surrounding the term. For one thing, the cult is one of the very few literaryhistorical categories that ab-solutely demands that we consider childrens literature alongside mainstream adult texts, a valuable and still underutilized strategy that enriches our under-standing of both fi elds. Moreover, it seems crucial to recognize that this term is not a label critics have retroactively imposed on the past but rather a phrase the Victorians themselves invented to make sense of their own culture, as I will demonstrate. Rather than dismissing the term because the strand of cultural primitivism Boas traces does not match up perfectly with the late Victorian moment, we should grant Boas his cult of childhood for that transhistorical trend, and use the cult of the child to refer specifi cally to the Victorians and Edwardians. After all, this is the phrase the poet and essayist Ernest Dowson used as a title for his 1889 essay in which he boldly claimed: There is no more distinctive feature of the age than the enormous importance which children have assumed (Cult of the Child 434).</p><p>Such statements by Victorians provide support for my claim that we ought to conceive of the cult of the child as a phenomenon generated by inhabitants of a specifi c cultural moment, who were in contact with and infl uencing one another. As a group, they shared a tendency to set up the child as the epitome of attractiveness for a variety of reasons, often while pondering the question of what the implications of this radical shift in regard were for both children and adults. As I will show, the artwork and actions of many key members of the cult were informed not simply (or even mainly) by primitivism but by a habit of extolling the childs innocent simplicity while simultaneously indulging a pro-found fascination with youthful sharpness and precocity. Reconceived in this </p><p> preface ix</p></li><li><p>way, the term the cult of the child can be redeployed to help us appreciate the work of a wide range of creative Victorians, including visual artists (John Ev-erett Millais, Julia Margaret Cameron, Frederic Harrison, Philip Wilson Steer, Walter Sickert); religious authorities (Frances Kilvert, Edward White Benson); childrens authors (Carroll, Burnett, Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, Stella Austin, Amy Le Feuvre); and a variety of other kinds of writers (Dickens, Eliot, Ruskin, Ernest Dowson, Marie Corelli, Joseph Ashby-Sterry, Henry James).</p><p>Let me hasten to add that this book represents only the fi rst step of my ongo-ing effort to delineate and redefi ne the cult of the child. A full account of this phenomenon would need to examine in greater depth the representation of children in visual art and literary texts aimed at adults, as well as exploring the possibility that it was a transatlantic trend. After all, there was a great deal of contact between England and North America at this time, with popular books and plays featuring child characters travelling freely back and forth across the ocean. Burnetts life and work illustrates this point; born in England, raised in America, her literary and dramatic productions were popular on both sides of the Atlantic. While I do discuss the hard-to-categorize Burnett here, in general this study focuses exclusively on British authors, not because Americans did not participate in the cult and the Golden Age of childrens literature, but simply because my overarching argument here is so bound up in trying to bring out the complexities of the English attitude toward childhood during this period. I do however believe that my central argument can be extended outward to apply to American childrens classics such as Little Women and Adventures of Huckle-berry Finn, so I refer occasionally to these and other major American texts.</p><p>I cannot possibly mention by name all of the people who have helped me in what has often seemed like an impossible task. But I must thank the brilliant teachers and mentors who made my undergraduate experience at the Univer-sity of Michigan so wonderful, especially Bert Cardullo, James Winn, and Patsy Yaeger. I was also very lucky to have a series of superb interlocutors at Prince-ton, including U. C. Knoepfl macher, who nurtured this project from its origins as a two-page response paper and supported me even when I was at my most anxious and defensive. Claudia L. Johnson, Jeff Nunokawa, Esther Schor, and Carolyn Williams also deserve special mention for helping me survive graduate school, as does the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program for supporting me very generously during my time at Princeton.</p><p>Thanks, too, to all of my colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who have been so universally encouraging that I cannot name everyone who has helped me, although Troy Boone must get special credit for reading and commenting on so many drafts, and Dave Bartholomae and Jim Knapp for all the support they have given me since I fi rst arrived at Pitt. I am also profoundly grateful to the knowledgeable and obliging staff at Hillman Library, especially Eugene M. Sawa, Elizabeth Mahoney, and Robert Hallead. A University of Pittsburgh </p><p>x preface </p></li><li><p>Faculty of Arts and Sciences Third Term Research Grant enabled me to fi nish the manuscript more quickly, while a generous gift from the Richard D. and Mary Jane Edwards Endowed Publication Fund paid for the pictures.</p><p>An earlier version of my fourth chapter appeared under the same title in Style35.3 (Fall 2001): 410-29. Chapters 5 and 6 draw on several passages from The Drama of Precocity: Child Performers on the Victorian Stage, my contribution to The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture (Ashgate 2008). To-gether, these chapters offer a more carefully qualifi ed version of the argument I made there about the appeal of nineteenth-century child actors. Thanks, then, to Style and Ashgate, and of course to everyone at Oxford University Press, especially Shannon McLachlan, Christina Gibson, Brendan ONeill, and Karla Pace. I am also deeply grateful to Martha Ramsey for her phenomenally accu-rate and intelligent copyediting.</p><p>In the past few years, I have been extremely blessed to have had wonder-ful female mentors at my own institution and elsewhere, especially Mary Bris-coe, Karen Coats, Nancy Glazener, Laurie Langbauer, Michelle Martin, Julia Mickenberg, Claudia Nelson, Roberta Seelinger Trites, and the late and much-missed Mitzi Myers. My gratitude to them is beyond words. Similarly, I have drawn enormous amounts of support from dear friends from each period of my life, including Liz Zirker, Allison Garner, and Eva Sanders in high school, Kate Guyton and Susan Welch at Michigan, and Jennifer Trainor and Amanda Godley at Pittsburgh. My time in graduate school was marked by an embar-rassment of riches where friends were concerned; I cannot mention everyone, but I must convey my deep affection and thanks...</p></li></ul>


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