The Erosion of Childhood: Child Oppression in Britain, 1860-1918

By Lionel Rose | Go to book overview

22

UPBRINGING IN THE UPPER-CLASS HOME

Whilst the crowding in the working-class homes enforced a physical (if not mental) intimacy between parents and children, the spaciousness of upper-class villas permitted the relegation of children to remote parts of the house, out of sight and sound; and the employment of staffs of servants to supervise them relieved parents of the need to play any part in their early upbringing. Fathers were too grand and busy, and mothers too elegant and superior, to attend to the feeding and nurture of their numerous progeny. From the moment of birth a wet-nurse, or patent brands of baby food of dubious nutritious value, would be the instinctive and customary answer to the problem of feeding; mother’s figure and time to socialize took overriding precedence. 1 Many children, surrounded in the nursery by nurses and nannies, were raised to feel that physical distance from the parent was right and proper. Gwen Raverat recalled:

I can never remember being bathed by my mother, or even having my hair brushed by her, and I should not at all have liked it if she had done anything of the kind. We did not feel it was her place to do such things.

However, there were many children, too, who keenly felt their parents’ remoteness and suffered mental dereliction from cold and perhaps uncaring fathers and social butterfly mothers. 2 One psychological comfort was the sublimation of parents into idealized beings, idols to be worshipped from afar, who in children’s fantasies would surely appear to rescue them from distress. The young Winston Churchill worshipped his socialite mother in this way: ‘She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly—but at a distance.’ Little Rudyard Kipling’s parents in India sent the boy

-222-

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