Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children's Literature

By Marah Gubar | Go to book overview

6
BURNETT, BARRIE, AND
THE EMERGENCE OF
CHILDREN’S THEATRE

The Victorians and Edwardians were intensely self-conscious about their own tendency to adore and interact intimately with young people. In his essay “Child-Worship” (1901), for instance, Augustin Filon worries that the new importance granted to children—who now function as “the undisputed masters of the house”—has made them aggressively self-confident and “conscious of their power” (41). Yet what truly upsets Filon is not so much a parent-child role reversal as a blurring of this binary: “We share our pleasures with them, unless we prefer to become children again, to join in theirs. Their interests are our interests, their talk is our talk. If you come as a guest to our houses, you will hear nothing but their tittle-tattle at the family dinner table” (43). Like the author of “Babyolatry,” Filon complains that children are enmeshed in adult culture too soon: daughters trick themselves out in “complicated and expensive adornments” while sons “smoke cigarettes, write newspapers, plan agitations against their headmaster” (43). Moreover, “we take them to the play; we will have their company when travelling abroad….We have created a literature for their amusement” (43).

The last point at first seems unconnected to the rest; it is not immediately obvious why the development of a special genre of literature aimed at children would promote the sort of intermingling that disturbs Filon. But my argument here has been that children’s literature from this era did indeed participate in this trend: in keeping with the overarching tendency of the cult of the child to ignore, deny, or unsettle the adult-child binary that activists were struggling to establish, children’s writers often seem intent on keeping the boundary between youth and age blurry. Thus, as contemporary critics of the cult noted, these au

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