Fictional Role of Childhood in Victorian and Early Twentieth Century Children’s Literature

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This book studies canonical children’s literature during what is perceived to be the first Golden Age of this genre. Building upon critical studies, such as Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, the instability at the heart of children’s literature is examined. The notion that children’s fiction promotes a discursive innocence is resisted by analyzing texts written specifically for a child readership. Textual tensions and desires inscribed from adult culture’s penmanship, and the subversion of childhood’s mythopoeic status are unveiled through critical analysis, highlighting the complex imbalance between adult narrator and child character.

Just as childhood and its connotations of innocence are a cultural adult production, so must children’s fiction incorporate an element of adult masquerade, where the child character embodies a performative dimension of the adult narrator’s psyche. A critical metaphor, ‘textual pedophilia’ encapsulates the literary and discursive desire for innocence ruptured by the adult palimpsest of a postlapsarian authorial presence. The title refers to the imaginative preoccupations of childhood as transfixed by a performative adult creativity hiding behind a fraudulent mask of pristine innocence. Ultimately, it is a playful genre that, far from promoting idealized innocence, often questions such discourses and subverts them.


“[This work] is a theoretically sophisticated study of some of the seminal stories published during the ‘golden age’ of children’s fiction. The importance of this book lies in its radical reappraisal of the child-centeredness that we like to claim for modern attitudes to children and child-rearing ... This book offers more than just a critique of the ideologies embedded in classic children’s fiction. The interpretative strategy is always to do justice to the complexities of each text, indicating its active engagement with, and even subversive deconstruction of, the dominant cultural myths of childhood. McCulloch is intent on making us reread these childhood favorites, but she convinces us that they are still full on interest and surprise.” – Professor Pam Morris, John Moores University

“ ... a very significant contribution to the study of children’s literature. There is a breadth to Dr. McCulloch’s approach in terms of theoretical perspective which makes this a knowledgeable and rigorous study, and which I think would be of more general interest to students and scholars of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, as well as those specifically interested in the literature of childhood. It makes use of a range of ideas and frameworks for reading which might also make it interesting to students of criticism and theory.” – Professor Mark Currie, Anglia Polytechnic University

Table of Contents

1. ‘Fabulous Monsters’ – Constructing Childhood / Creating Fictions: The Alice Books
2. ‘The Broken Telescope’ – Misrepresentations in The Coral Island
3. ‘Playing Double’ – Performing Childhood in Treasure Island
4. ‘They Never Came Out But at Night’ –Protecting Innocence in The Princess and the Goblin
5. ‘I Must be Clean, I Must be Clean’ – Purifying The Water-Babies
6. “I Shall Stop Being Queer […] if I Go Every Day to the Garden’ – Edenic Childhood in The Secret Garden
7. “It is But a Child of Air That Lingers in the Garden There’ – Desiring Innocence in A Child’s Garden of Verses

Other Literature - Children's Books