The Vanity of Childhood: Constructing, Deconstructing, and Destroying the Child in the Novel of the 1840s



In an examination of the textual creation of the child we might begin by asking why the 1840s is a fertile moment historically for such a study of representation. There seem to be five main considerations which should be taken into account here, and we might begin with Jacqueline Rose’s remark that the reappearence of the notion of innocence on the cultural agenda seems always to point to the ‘trouble and murkiness’ which engenders it.1 It was certainly a time of the social, political and intellectual stirring up of muddy waters, and murkiness there was in abundance as the debate concerning science and religion began to undermine man’s notion of himself as central and vital to the world. Darwinian theories made the Victorians feel ‘infinitely isolated’ as John Fowles noted in 1968:

By the 1860’s the great iron structures of their philosophies, religions and social stratifications were already beginning to look dangerously corroded to the more perspicacious.2


Binary Opposition Innocent Child Cultural Agenda Textual Creation Victorian Culture 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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