Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Testing boundaries

The transition from the nineteenth-century tradition of realism to the innovations of Modernism can be seen as a reaction against one dominant form of expression with a radical reformulation of the concerns of literature. However, in recent times, literary historians have claimed the turn of the century as a distinct literary period with cultural and aesthetic concerns of its own. Rather than merely a point of smooth transition, the fin de siècle can be seen as a period characterised by disruptions and conflicts that had been building up throughout the late nineteenth century and were, to some extent, to spur radical experimentation in art with the advent of Modernism. The significance for an understanding of the ways in which children's literature articulates change is manifold during such a period of uncertainty: in particular, contemporary cultural critics consider the fin de siècle period to be a 'defining moment for observing the processes by which the boundaries between high culture and popular culture are established and policed' (Pykett 1996:4).

The dominant view of children's literature as popular culture indicates the need to investigate the form in relation to these processes. While it might be supposed that the aesthetic concerns of the time cannot be found in children's literature, the frequency with which writers of 'literature' as high culture displayed a fascination with the idea of childhood must be acknowledged. Such an interest can be seen particularly in relation to sexuality and the shifting power relationships between men and women at the turn of the century, and contributes to the tone of children's literature.

A growing cultural divide between masculine pursuits in the city and a concern with commerce, and the shifting status of women within the domestic sphere is sometimes articulated in the

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