The construction of childhood in Victorian England helps lend a context to the meaning(s) of Lewis Carroll's children's classic, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This short paper will examine the emergence of ‘childhood' as a new category, beginning in the late 18th century, expanded and expounded upon by scholars and practical social planners, from that time period onward. (Hendrick, 1990) Hailed as a work of enduring imagination, read by both children and adults, Carroll's work is described and understood as Knoepflmacher writes, as an example of the balance between childhood as a time of ‘magical thinking' and the author and adult readers' regression to their own childhood, as a way of referencing what was regarded as a lost time. (Knoepflmacher, 1983) The Victorian era struggled with two visions of the child – the older idea of the sinful child and the newer idea of ‘childhood' as a natural stage in life, and a means of organizing a compulsory childhood, via the mechanism of the compulsory education system. (Hendrick, 1990 ). This paper will argue that Carroll's writing contains elements of all of these possibilities: child/adult imagination; references to cultural ideas of devil children and angelic, middle class educated idealized child, and thirdly, what Kincaid calls the author's use of children's literature as a means to explore the imagination (Kincaid, 1973). The intersection and presence of all of these ideas reveal Carroll's own experimentation with childhood and its various possible meanings through his work as a creative artist.
[...] (Hendricks: 39-42) Carroll's hypnotic dreamscape fantasy of Alice is a highly imaginative children's text, therefore, in that it pits the ‘innocent' and ‘curious' beautiful middle class Alice against the more odious idea of the monster child running amok in the industrial revolution. As Auerbach contends, Carroll's Alice has deep psychological components, something absent from most depictions of girls or women in Victorian literature. (Auerbach: 46) Hendrick calls the construction of “dependency” in children a key element in the creation of ‘childhood'. [...]
[...] (Auerbach: 38-41) Auerbach however,is complementary to Carroll, claiming his Alice, with all of her fears, terrors, ambiguities, niceties and evil is a deeper, more thorough representation of a girl than is found in any other Victorian literature it is almost a prototype for a later, more 20th century modernist vision of the damaged or conflicted psyche (of both men and women.) (Auerbach: 43) This seems a powerful and useful analysis of Carroll's children's tale, showing how it partakes in Victorian ideas of childhood, while at the same time is more sensitive to revealing, and even exposing, artistically, the Victorian contradictions of the child as pure good or pure evil. [...]
[...] Carroll, Knoepflmacher seems to assert, rebels against rigid conceptions through using the child as a means to get in touch with his own repressed, inner-child. (Knoepflamcher, 1983) Both this idea and Auerbach's and Kincaid's sense that Carroll (and his Alice) are showing internal psychological conflict may be imposed readings from the late 20th century upon a Victorian text. Yet, there is something to both of the claims, given the fact that the surreal, dreamscape of the book does depart from the usual simplistic kind of books produced for children during the late 18th to late 19th century. [...]
[...] Finally these contexts help to frame and shape the highly imaginative narrative vision of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, making it, as literature a book that seems to transcend its entire time period and genre, more experimental in nature, as if using the child literature form as a way to explore very adult ideas as well as comment on the confusing state and meaning of childhood during the cultural times in which he wrote. Bibliography Auerbach, Nina, “Alice in Wonderland: A Curious Child” in Victorian Studies, Vol no Sept [...]
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