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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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Conclusion 205


Conclusion Until recently, controversy over the Victorian novelists' han- dling of childhood has been rather limited, focusing mainly on whether or not the doctrine of original sin triumphed in their work: one commentator feels that it did (Pattison 93); another, that it did not {Grylls 198). As an astute reviewer has pointed out, "[t]he plot must be flawed if it can be resolved in such contradictory ways" {Schoch 241). I have already remarked (early in Chapter 6) that this problem seems to me to have been swallowed up in the general anxiety of the late Victorian period. More closely related to my own interest is the debate centred on the late Victorian children's fantasies, over whether mature attitudes prevail over regressive urges. In 1983, U .C. Knoepfl- macher posited a protracted and fruitful struggle between such drives: the main title of his much-quoted article is "The Balanc- ing of Child and Adult" (emphasis added); but again in 1985, Humphrey Carpenter, like Coveney, suggested that it was the escapist vein which emerged here, in a "private, child-like voice" (11). It is certainly true that the writers of these fantasies believed in keeping the child in us alive (as indeed did Dickens). MacDonald says as much in The Princess and Curdie: "The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the old child at the heart of him, and never let it go .... The child is not meant to die, but to be forever reborn" (18). But to keep in touch...

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