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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 Five: The Girlhood of the Victorian Heroine 109


Chapter Five The Girlhood of the Victorian Heroine "I am the brother and you are the sister, and you are to keep my house." Margaret Oliphant, The Curate in Charge 81. "Never mind, mamma dear . . . Never mind. I don't mind. I will do something. I will be something. Things will come right." George Eliot, Daniel Derunda 271. At the very centre of Ford Madox Brown's crowded canvas, "Work," which he started in 1852 and took thirteen years to complete, is a surprising figure-that of a girl wearing cast-off, over-sized clothes. She is in sole charge of a smaller brother and sister and a babe-in-arms; the latter, modelled on Brown's own dead infant, sports a black ribbon on his sleeve. But Brown is not drawing our attention to the plight of these orphaned chil- dren in order to solicit our sympathy; instead, he is celebrating the girl's firm handling of her mischievous brother. Her head is tilted in the same attitude of concentration as that of the youth nearby, toiling usefully to lay sewers in the suburban street (Brown shared Kingsley's concern with sanitation); her arm is also outstretched at the same angle as his, as she confidently restrains or disciplines her brother . Most children in the Victorian novels are just as resilient, just as energetic as this. In this chapter and the next, I focus on those who get through the perilous early years, and face the various trials of growing up. I propose to deal with girls first. Heroines...

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