The Mind Of A Child Essay, Research Paper
The mind of a childIf, as Francis Spufford has suggested in The Child that Books Built, we are all, imaginatively, the creatures of our juvenile reading, then one way to get inside the mind of someone born in, say, 1900, might be to look at the children’s library that was available to such a person.As the century turned, the Edwardian child, like his or her twenty-first-century equivalent, had a choice of Potters, Beatrix not Harry. The Tale Of Peter Rabbit was published – at its author’s expense – almost exactly 100 years ago in 1901, followed by The Tailor of Gloucester in 1902. Frederick Warne took over publication there after, and reaped the profits from Potter’s first big success in 1903 with The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.Through the vicissitudes of publishing history, Warne is now owned by Penguin Books, which is launching a centenary edition of Potter’s Tales, using fresh colour plates, re-set texts, and familiar promotional gimmicks designed to give one of the all-time children’s bestsellers a new lease of life.Apart from Potter, who was after all a newcomer, the giants of the Edwardian schoolroom were Conan Doyle, Kipling and HG Wells. The opening years of the new century, rich in classics such as The Golden Bowl, Lord Jim and Where Angels Fear to Tread, also saw the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Just So Stories and Kipps.Childhood and the loss of innocence was, arguably, a quintessentially Edwardian theme. The first stage version of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan premiered in 1904. Two years later, E Nesbit, whose home life (a gruesome ménage à trois in the suburbs) was emphatically not for younger readers, published The Railway Children, in the same season as Jack London’s White Fang.Adventure stories, then as now, had a huge following. In Edwardian England, the drama of empire supplied an exotic and absolutely factual backdrop to all kinds of yarns.King of such tales was Rider Haggard, now sadly neglected. Haggard’s most famous novels, combining weird invention and spell-binding narrative, were She (1887) and King Solomon’s Mines (1886), fierce cocktails of African tribal lore and primitive mystery. Edwardian children loved them, and Haggard inspired many imitators.Away from the comfort and security of London, the imperial capital, the world was seen as a savage place: heathen, illiterate, primitive and strangely thrilling. It was, perhaps, the threats of this wider world to childhood innocence that Hilaire Belloc gently satirised in his Cautionary Tales for Children, published in 1908.The Edwardian book market was different from our own in one crucial respect. It catered explicitly for boys, and boys of a certain class, no less. There was an entire literature directed at public schoolboys, and magazines (such as the Public School Magazine ) designed to appeal to the young men who would shortly enlist in the imperial army, or enter the imperial civil service, or become clerks in some great imperial business.The 1900s, like the 2000s, was a decade of booming capitalism, a mass communications revolution and, thanks to the Education Act of 1870, a dramatic increase in the size of the British reading public.After the Boer War, the dramas of empire rather lost their shine, but in the first decade of the new century the threat of war with Germany mesmerised readers. Now the threat to the empire, hitherto concentrated in exotic villains in faraway lands, could be located across the North Sea, in the Kaiser’s Germany with its expanding navy of dreadnought battleships. Erskine Childers (later executed for his support of the Irish republican movement) was the first to capitalise on this British nationalist neurosis with his masterpiece The Riddle of the Sands (1903), in which two amateur yachtsmen uncover German preparations for an invasion of England.Invasion-scare thrillers became such a vogue genre that a young Edwardian humorist named PG Wodehouse was commissioned to dash off a spoof. The Swoop, now an exceedingly rare book, was the result, a light-hearted fantasy subtitled ‘How Clarence Saved England’, written in five days and published in 1909.Wodehouse was a writer who would come to maturity in the 1920s and 1930s. Not only was he immensely popular with that generation of Edwardian readers I’ve just described, he dedicated his first novel, a public-school story entitled The Pothunters, to three of them: Joan, Effie and Ernestine Bowes-Lyon, grand-daughters of the thirteenth Earl of Strathmore, friends of the young writer. But that’s another story.