Sally Shuttleworth. the Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900

By Cunningham, Hugh | Dickens Quarterly, September 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Sally Shuttleworth. the Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900


Cunningham, Hugh, Dickens Quarterly


Sally Shuttleworth. The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Pp. x + 497. $65.

Marah Gubar. ArtfulDodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children's Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Pp. xx + 264. Cloth $55.96; Paper $24.95.

Innocence is what we associate with Victorian childhood, not so much the innocence of children, for many of them were clearly not innocent in any meaning of the word, but an ideal of innocence, a belief that childhood should be distanced from adulthood, that children should be allowed to grow in accordance with the dictates of nature and ideally in constant contact with nature. This ideal can be traced back to Rousseau and more immediately to the Romantic poets, Wordsworth preeminent among them. Dickens built on this to suggest that adults needed to keep the child in them alive, and to depict many children who had been deprived of a proper childhood. More than half a century ago, Peter Coveney, in The Image of Childhood, argued that the sentimentality towards children evident in Dickens became a debilitating weakness in later writers until by 1900, in Marie Corelli's The Boy, we reached the point of "the absolute decadence of the romantic idea of innocence" (1966 ed., 192).

These two books both complicate this narrative and suggest persuasive alternatives. Shuttleworth, in an admirably inter-disciplinary analysis, links together the child in literature and the two emergent disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. Both disciplines lent heavily on literature in their attempts to understand child development. Rousseau, Wordsworth, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre and George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss provided in a very real sense the foundation texts for reading the child mind. As late as 1901, a doctor, W. B. Drummond, in The Child: His Nature and Nurture, wondered whether a poet--he had Wordsworth in mind--might not "discover traits which are hidden from the cold-blooded scrutiny of science," a sentiment which it is impossible to imagine being uttered in 2001, so dominant has become scientific authority. In the nineteenth century, as Shuttleworth shows, "Science followed literature in attempting to understand the stages of child growth" (74). It was hardly a coincidence that Dombey and Son was published in the same year, 1848, as the establishment of the Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology by an admirer of Dickens, Forbes Winslow. Winslow published articles that reinforced the dangers of over-pressure in schools symbolized so powerfully by Paul Dombey. But while psychiatrists like Winslow became attuned through literature to the challenges facing childhood, not least the fears, especially the "night terrors," which afflicted so many children, they also began to issue alarmist warnings about the dangers of "moral insanity" in childhood. Parents were urged to watch for the early signs, such as lying, and, hard to distinguish from it, an indulgence of the imagination and the passions. The danger of lying was that it indicated that the child perpetrator had a secret world, unknown to adults. Closely linked to it was that other secret and dangerous habit, masturbation. In the mid-nineteenth century, too many children's minds, in the view of experts, were no blank sheet, nor were they engaging in a positive way with the natural wonders of the world. On the contrary, they were germinating the seeds of problems in adulthood.

In the second half of the century a division began to emerge between psychology and psychiatry. Psychologists, of whom the most eminent was James Sully, friend of R. L. Stevenson and George Meredith, encouraged children to use their imagination. The child mind was of interest not only in itself but as a clue to fundamental issues of human development, for the child, as Stevenson noted, "is not our contemporary." Did the child's growth recapitulate that of the human race?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Sally Shuttleworth. the Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?