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Through the Northern Gate

Childhood and Growing Up in British Fiction, 1719-1901

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Jacqueline Banerjee

This study challenges critical orthodoxy by showing that childhood became a focus of interest in British fiction well before the Romantic period. It also argues that children in the Victorian novel, far from being sentimental figures, are psychologically unique and contribute positively and significantly to the narrative discourse. Contemporary ideology, the novelists' autobiographical and humanitarian impulses, and gender issues, are all examined as factors in this development. Works by the major authors are analysed alongside others by non-canonical and children's writers.

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Chapter One: The Child and Childhood in the Eighteenth-Century Novel 1

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2 Childhood in the Eighteenth-Century Novel 1. First Steps: Defoe to Fielding Such was Defoe's standing with the Victorians that in 1855/6 Trollope placed him among the eighteen 'giants' of English literature; despite Trollope's own liking for poetry, Byron was the only one of the Romantics to be included on his list. Along with Dr Johnson, Defoe earned his own place because of his "influence on English literary history" (Hall 139). One aspect of this influence is my topic here. While Daniel Defoe was writing fiction, he was also preparing didactic treatises, including The Family Instrudor, In Three Parts (1715), The Family Instrudor, In Two Parts (1718) and A New Family Instrudor (1727). This is very much in line with Foucault's view that elaborate regulations were being developed to govern family life in the eighteenth century (Politics of Health 279). Something of this enterprise was bound to permeate the early novel. Thus, in Robinson Crusoe, the young Crusoe is at fault in neglecting his parents' advice; Friday, on the other hand, demonstrates his superiority to other cannibalistic savages in the affection he shows his father. Defoe's later novels testify more conspicuously to his intense concern with the parent/ child relationship, since the central characters are increasingly likely to be affected by childhood events, and judged by their behaviour towards their own offspring. The child is very much there in Defoe's fiction, and indeed in the novels of Richardson and Fielding too. Robinson Crusoe makes a good starting-point for my discus-...

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