The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature

The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature

The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature

The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature

Synopsis

Many Victorian and Edwardian fantasy stories began as extemporaneous oral tales told for the delight of children and, like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows, were written down by chance. These fanciful stories, told with child-like spontaneity, are analyzed here to argue their role in the revolution not only of children's literature, but of the general conception of childhood. In contrast to the traditional moral tales of the 18th century that were written with the express purpose of instructing children how to become adults, this literature that Sandner identifies as the "fantastic sublime" reveled in the imagination and the enjoyment of reading. By looking at the structure of the Romantic sublime and inventing and exploring the structure of the fantastic sublime, this work offers a completely new way to examine 19th-century children's fantasy literature, and perhaps, fantastic literature in general.

Excerpt

Lewis Carroll invented Alice in Wonderland (1865) for Alice Liddell while boating one "golden afternoon," writing it down only after Alice insisted (Gardner, 21-4). Kenneth Grahame began The Wind in the Willows (1908) as a bedtime story for his son Alastair. He continued the story in a series of letters, only later turning the letters, fortunately saved by Alastair's governess, into a book (Gooderson, 8-11). John Ruskin wrote The King of the Golden River (1851), one of the first English literary fairy tales, simply "to amuse a little girl," twelve-year- old Effie Gray (Coyle, 86).

So many Victorian and Edwardian fantasies began as larks, extempore romances for the delight of children, written down by chance, that one dominant trope of nineteenth-century children's fantasy literature is its seeming unimportance. Moral tales, the primary children's literature of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, were books of instruction, written with a manifest purpose: to help children become adults. In counterpoint, nineteenth-century children's fantasy presented itself as oral, told in a moment of childlike spontaneity, as without purpose except delight, as reveling in the imagination--what cannot be seen and what cannot be taught.

Nineteenth-century children's fantasy was written not simply to but for children, either for a specific child or a general, ephemeral childlike quality in adults. In his letters Oscar Wilde wrote that his fairy tales . . .

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