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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 Four: Child Death and the Novelist's Purpose 83


Chapter Four Child Death and the Novelist's Purpose Papa, I can't think how Jesus can be in all the boats! Perhaps they don't go quite at the same time? He must be, you know, because he comes to fetch us. Mrs Henry Wood, East Lynne 441. Nowhere is the Victorian novelists' desire to strengthen resolve more keenly felt than when they deal with early death. Instead of ascribing their interest in it to self-pity, and suggesting that they are bemoaning the passing (or denial) of happiness in their own childhoods, I propose a stronger possibility here: that they are mourning their lost children. For this reason, I focus first on the huge social and personal problem of early death. Then, I demonstrate the positive uses to which the novelists put their grief and humanitarian concern. In the last and (for my present purpose) most important section of the chapter, my aim is to show that even those child characters who die young are spiritually robust, and cope courageously with the process of death. This is the point at which the Romantic ideal of the innocent child, and the Evangelical ideal of the saved child as a spiritual guide, reinforce each other. However, the novelists rarely adopt either the visionary modes of Romantic poetry or the saccha- rine iconography of the tract: the novel form which they inher- ited offers its own unique opportunities for stressing the value of childhood, and exploring the last phase of a child character's earthly consciousness....

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