The social hierarchy of Victorian England perpetuated the involvement of the working class in poverty driven crime and with regard to the concurrent impact on children; Duckworth comments that "Crime and poverty were inseparably associated and most of the young who suffered gaol sentences were victims of poverty; wholly uncared for by family, church or state" (Duckworth, 2002).
Moreover, the industrial revolution and the first quarter of the nineteenth century saw Britain at the heart of a seismic societal shift whereby a "mass of humanity poured from the countryside into towns and cities, particularly London, without any prospect of employment or shelter. Children ran wild on the streets, surviving as best they could, often by crime, and only the tough and quick witted survived" (Duckworth, 2002).
[...] This is extremely effective in engaging the reader into a sense of familiarity with the fairytale format, however Kingsley cleverly subverts the fairytale fantasy through the central protagonist Tom, who symbolizes the struggle of the average child in Victorian England cold not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught to say his prayers. He had never heard of God He cried half his time, and laughed the other half”. [...]
[...] The focus of this paper is to critically evaluate the depiction of Victorian childhood and a consideration of how children lived in the Victorian era with a contextual reference to Victorian literature. In particular, reference will be made to the “Water Babies” (1864) by Charles Kingsley, the Alice Books (1865) by Lewis Carol and “Oliver Twist” (1838) by Charles Dickens. At the outset it is submitted that the diverse nature of Victorian literature highlighted how “novels became a means through which readers defined their social identity and formed their attitudes to such issues as nationalism, gender differences and the nature of the family” (James 2006, p.xi). [...]
[...] Indeed, Dickens' attached importance to ensuring that Oliver's character was incorruptible and morally immune from the brutality of his childhood to undermine the Victorian perception that evil was born to poor (Bratton, 1981). This undermined bourgeois ideology pertaining to the poor at the time and is further reflected by Dickens' use of Oliver to portray the image of the child as innocent and redemptive (McCulloch, 2004). Interestingly in Oliver, even when Oliver is restored to his wealth relatives he remains a child. [...]
[...] In the Water Babies, this is acutely highlighted by the contrast between Tom and privileged Ellie and to this end, the techniques used by both Carroll and Kingsley is effective in highlighting the immorality of their protagonist's position in Victorian society. With regard to other characters, the Cheshire cat is elusive and one of the few likable characters only one to admit he is (Leach at p.92). Bloomindgale further comments that the central riddle of Wonderland that must be solved is that which Alice asks the Duchess concerning the Cheshire Cat: please would you tell me . [...]
[...] Alternatively, Avery & Reynolds comment that the story in the Water Babies presents a disturbing and complex portrayal of attitude towards childhood death in Victorian England as “these texts kin some way celebrate demands and presents as desirable the death of its child protagonist” (Avery & Reynolds at p.172). On one level, the text embraces the correlation between childhood death and the religious attitude at the time of good death and Avery & Reynolds make the interesting point that textual practice of killing children can then be understood as a way of keeping them by halting the ageing process and preventing them from becoming less perfect” (Avery & Reynolds at p.172). [...]
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