Childhood and Growing Up in British Fiction, 1719-1901
Chapter Six: The Struggle for Manhood in Victorian Fiction 149
Chapter Six The Struggle for Manhood in Victorian Fiction So nigh is grandeur to our dust, So near is God to man, When Duty whispers low, Thou must, The youth replies, I can. Emerson, Voluntaries 466-67. Many recent gender-oriented studies of Victorian fiction have focused on the injuries done to girls by confining them to the home, and on their achievements in trying to break out of the domestic mould. Now, however, critical attention is returning to the boys, with a degree of sympathy which is by no means displaced. Asked to participate in a rapidly changing society in a way their sisters were not, Victorian boys faced challenges which their sisters did not. Again, in the novel there was some success in injecting new life into old literary modes, especially with the "cult of the hero" in the 1840s; but there was nothing for boys on a par with the domestic ideal handed down to girls by Pamela. Joseph Andrews was both a little more than child and a little less than man in his concern for his chastity, and the tediously proper and considerate Sir Charles Grandison had little appeal for the Victorians (see Vance 23-24). It was not until the appearance of Samuel Smiles's SelfHelp in 1859 that anything approaching a new goal was created for boys. Even then it was an uneasy synthesis of "self-culture, self-discipline ... honest and upright performance of individual duty" (v), and "heroic self-denial and manly tenderness" (418). Defying past assumptions about appropriate...
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