Beyond the Century of the Child: Cultural History and Developmental Psychology

By Willem Koops; Michael Zuckerman | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Birth of the Virtual Child
A Victorian Progeny

JOHN R. GILLIS

Needing the idea of the child so badly, we find ourselves sacrificing the
bodies of children for it
.

James Kincaid, Child-Loving (1992)

The Victorians taught us not only what to think about the child but also how to think with the child. They created the concept of “the child” and then used it to symbolize the meaning of life itself. People have always cared and thought about particular children, and not just their own, but it was the Victorians who constructed what James Kincaid has called that “wonderfully hollow category, able to be filled up with anyone’s overflowing emotions, not least overflowing passion” (1992, 12). And we have become even more dependent on the child as a master symbol and image, so dependent that we are nearly incapable of seeing how central it is to our sense of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

The Victorians were also the first to make the child a presence in the absence of real children. They supplied Western culture with a plethora of beloved child figures—innocent, pure, timeless—but also gave us a gallery of eroticized, seductive, even savage children (Kincaid 1992). These split images have outlived not only their progenitors but also the media that first gave them life. Figures born of books and theater multiply in contemporary film and on television, taking on ever more fantastic forms over time. Victorian imaginings first colonized every segment of Western society and were then exported to the rest of the world. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the West finds itself haunted by images of children that were its own creation (Stephens 1995). Terrifying tales of street children, which were first produced in London’s East End and New York’s Lower East Side,

-82-

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