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

By Marah Gubar | Go to book overview
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1. See, for example Coveney, Carpenter, Polhemus, Wullschläger, and Honeyman. Even Prickett, who repeatedly emphasizes that we cannot simply assume “that fantasy is always an escape or refuge from a repressive social code” and who lauds Charles Kingsley and George MacDonald for deploying fantasy in sophisticated, self-conscious ways in order to explore pressing “adult” issues (40), ends up dismissing Carroll and Edward Lear as childish “eccentrics” who gave way to their escapist tendencies (137). Similarly, Ann Wilson characterizes Barrie’s Neverland as a “world of childish adventure that is an escape from the pressures of real life” (600), even though—as she herself admits—the anxieties about class, gender, and Empire that emerge in the scenes set in England in no way dissipate when the action shifts to Peter’s island.

2. Thus, Wullschläger defines the Golden Age as a period when “a handful of men” created “a radical new literature for children” of unparalleled power and allure (4). Similarly, Carpenter’s characterization of the Golden Age as a period extending “from Lewis Carroll to A. A. Milne” in his preface reflects his general practice of rating male authors higher than female ones and fantasy over “the detritus of the moralists” and authors who penned realistic fiction (10), a genre he claims “attracted few writers of any quality” (15). In Ventures into Childland (1998), Knoepflmacher has moved to redress such sexist accounts by including appreciative readings of the work of influential female authors such as Juliana Ewing, Jean Ingelow, and Christina Rossetti. Yet he, too, focuses solely on fantasy, tracing how female authors responded to fairy tales by Ruskin, Thackeray, and Carroll. Interestingly, the earliest critical account of this period is actually the one that is most open to the idea that nonfantastic texts might have helped to make the Golden Age great. In “The Golden Age of Children’s Books” (1962), R. L. Green has some kind words for Charlotte Yonge’s domestic stories and historical romances and even proposes


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


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