Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity

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9780226448152: Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity

Behind the innocent face of Victorian fairy tales such as Through the Looking Glass or Mopsa the Fairy lurks the specter of an intense gender debate about the very nature of childhood. Offering brilliant rereadings of classics from the "Golden Age of Children's Literature" as well as literature commonly considered "grown-up," U. C. Knoepflmacher illuminates this debate, probing deeply into the relations between adults and children, adults and their own childhood selves, and the lives of beloved Victorian authors and their "children's tales." Ventures into Childland will delight and instruct all readers of children's classics, and will be essential reading for students of Victorian culture and gender studies.

"Ventures into Childland is acute, well written and stimulating. It also has a political purpose, to insist on the importance of protecting and nurturing children, imaginatively and physically."—Jan Marsh, Times Literary Supplement

"A provocative and interesting book about Victorian culture."—Library Journal

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From the Inside Flap:

Behind the innocent face of Victorian fairy tales such as Through the Looking Glass or Mopsa the Fairy lurks the spectre of an intense nineteenth-century debate about the very nature -- and ownership -- of childhood. In the engagingly written Ventures into Childland, U. C. Knoepflmacher illuminates this debate. Offering brilliant rereadings of classics from the "Golden Age of Children's Literature" as well as literature commonly considered "grown-up", Knoepflmacher probes deeply into the relations between adults and children, adults and their own childhood selves, and between the lives of beloved Victorian authors and their "children's tales".

As Knoepflmacher shows, male and female constructions of childhood in these fairy tales differed radically. Male writers -- John Ruskin, William Makepeace Thackeray, George MacDonald, and Lewis Carroll -- often displayed an uneasy relation to adult gender roles. By privileging a special girl reader, they attempted to blur sexual differences and sentimentalize and arrested childhood. Female authors, on the other hand -- Jean Ingelow, Christina Rossetti, and Juliana Ewing -- tried to wrest fairy tales away from the male authors who had appropriated the genre. These women's tales relate fables of growth that are more grounded in actuality than the men's, and that more often allow their girl characters to mature.

These disputes are poignant at a time when our inherited notion of childhood as a precious preserve seems seriously threatened. Ventures into Childland will delight and instruct all readers of children's classics, and will be essential reading for students of Victorian culture and gender studies.

From Library Journal:

Behind the innocent facades of Victorian fairy tales were intense debates about the nature of childhood and the motives of the male and female authors of the tales. These issues as well as the works of seven British children's authors who published from 1850 to 1870, including Lewis Carroll and Christina Rossetti, are treated here by Knoepflmacher (English and ancient and modern literature, Princeton Univ.; Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers, LJ 4/15/92). The author believes that male writers of the time idealized childhood, whereas female writers were more grounded in actuality and that both camps were in constant conflict. While the author admits to imposing 20th-century notions of gender onto a pre-Freudian era, this is a provocative and interesting book about Victorian culture and is highly suitable for academic libraries.ARebecca Martin, Northern Illinois Univ., DeKalb
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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