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Through the Northern Gate

Childhood and Growing Up in British Fiction, 1719-1901


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 Two: The Child in Early Nineteenth-Century Fiction 21


Chapter Two The Child in Early Nineteenth-Century Fiction On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provi- sion for discourse. Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility 25. Upon the next branches of the tree, lower down, hard by the green roller and miniature gardening-tools, how thick the books begin to hang. Thin books in themselves at first, but many of them .... Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Tree," SSF 130. Foucault argues that the documentation of the individual became "a hold for a branch of power"; understanding the child was thus a step in "the formation of a disciplinary society." However, when we look at Fielding's vignette at the beginning of Amelia, of an old man being supported by his daughter in his last hour (the pair are destitute, and have only each other) it seems likely that in the novel, at least, the "threshold of describ- ability" was lowered to the child as a result of growing sympathy rather than from the desire to control (Discipline and Punish 191-93). On the other hand, the novelist from Defoe onwards has always been deeply concerned with children in their family and wider social relationships, and this concern has gone hand in hand with the larger moral purpose of the narrative. Another feature of the novel, as the Victorians found it, was its potential for directly influencing both adult readers' behaviour towards children, and younger readers' behaviour towards adults. This inevitably affected their depiction of child characters. This...

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