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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 Three: Victorian Childhood and the Novelist's Vision 45


Chapter Three Victorian Childhood and the Novelist's Vision My life, it has been seen, began with winter ... the spring, summer and autumn of life were yet to come. Harriet Martineau, Autobiography 2: 205. Through the successive identifications and revivals, the subject must constitute the history of his ego. Jacques Lacan, Seminar 181-2. From now on my aim is to explain why the Victorian novelists built on the eighteenth-century foundation in the ways they did. In this chapter I shall start by looking at the society to which children had to adapt in the nineteenth century, particularly at the way it impinged on children themselves, and particularly in the earlier half of the century when the Victorian novelists were growing up and beginning their writing careers. In the later sections of the chapter, my concern is with how these novelists come to focus on the emotions of young characters in close relationships with each other, partly as a response to what had now become, in Foucauldian terms, a culture of 'surveillance'; and with the ways in which they use the child character to try to confront their own pasts. It was through these processes, in turn, that the psychology and personality of the child came to be closely analysed in their work. 1. Victorian Childhood The rise in profile of the child in eighteenth-century English society is suggested by the increasing fanfare surrounding the assembly of thousands of Charity School children at St Paul's on Holy Thursdays: in 1788, 6,000...

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