Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby

Article excerpt

The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby. By Charles Kingsley. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2013, Pp. xlix, 235. $21.95.)

Readers who prize books for their aesthetic qualities as well as for their content will find this new edition of The Water-Babies irresistible! From the dust-jacket illustration (taken from a 1915 edition ) of a tiny Tom the Chimney Sweep suspended in a turquoise underwater world in deep conversation with a huge, flat sunfish to the two original Noel Patón illustrations and the illuminated capital letters from the original 1863 edition to the bright blue end papers, it is an extremely attractive little book Should one, then, rush to add this "children's classic" to the good editions of the works of Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, R. Kipling, George MacDonald et al which we employ in the hope of instilling the reading habit in our digitally inclined off-spring? Perhaps not, unless one can be assured of producing a future generation of specialists in the Victorian era.

It is difficult enough to imagine even the most erudite Victorian child following the twists, turns, rants, and references in Kingsley's "children's story." This new edition is, however, very fertile ground for insights into the mind of the ubiquitous Kingsley. He seems to have been everywhere in Victorian England, and it is all but impossible to avoid him. Quite aside from his position as the rector of the parish of Everseley, he wrote extensively (nine novels alone) and had close association with such social and religious reformers as F. D. Maurice and Thomas Hughes and was the principal advocate of what came to be known as Muscular Christianity. An avid naturalist himself, he was an early defender of Charles Darwin and an advocate of natural history study. …

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