Going beyond the Domestic Sphere: Women’s Literature for Children, 1856-1902
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from my thesis.
My thesis explores how female writers of the Golden Age of children’s literature used their domestic stories to convey their visions of a more desirable society to their child readers, and thus to widen their influence beyond the homely sphere. My first chapter reconsiders the nineteenth-century historical circumstances wherein the woman and the child came to be constructed and enshrined as the domestic woman and the Romantic child within the home, and excluded from the public discourses. I then consider how in domestic stories women writers tried to overcome this shared deprivation of autonomy with the child, focusing on the works of Charlotte Yonge, Juliana Ewing, and Mary Louisa Molesworth. It emerges that these women writers were all keen to encourage their young readers to question the boundaries that separate home from the public realm, and to imagine a society wherein these dividing lines would be mitigated and even be extinguished. The thesis argues that these female writers’ literary efforts to exhaust the potential of the domestic story, and that their motivation to provide their child readers a sense of agency were integral in the development of Golden Age children’s literature. Charlotte Yonge’s technique of evoking sympathy for the child characters forged a more intimate relationship between adult author and young reader, and initiated the unsettling of the hierarchy between old and young, and author and reader. Juliana Ewing’s experiments with child narrators and her mingling of adventure and fantasy stories with domestic stories showed successive writers the various directions the domestic story could go. Mary Louisa Molesworth’s nursery stories realized the purpose of Ewing’s literary experiments, as her stories’ natural interweaving of quotidian nursery and fairy tale elements not only alleviated the hierarchy between fantasy and domestic realism, but also opened an era in which the blending of these two modes would become one of the most popular genres in children’s literature.
PhD in English