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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood / Histoires d'enfant, histoires d'enfance. Tome II

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Sébastien Salbayre

“Wrecked at the critical point where the stream and river meet”? Lewis Carroll and the deconstruction of Childhood

Karen MGavock

Résumé

Wrecked at the critical point where the stream and river meet”?: Lewis Carroll and the deconstruction of Childhood.
This paper will investigate the “form” and “reform” of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – to change within the form of the text and through the form of Alice the character. Although Carroll may have fetishized childhood and commodified the child in print, the child was not passive in this process. In the Alice books Carroll takes us beyond conventional practice, activating the child from centuries of dormancy. Carroll rather unconventionally rendered the child active, as an agent of reform rather than passive amidst the process of change. For the first time since childhood was constructed in the eighteenth-century, Carroll fostered the child’s ability not to merely accept didacticism but to question social morality. He creates characters and texts which are active agents in change who reflect and examine themselves and others. Alice, therefore, provides a refreshing alternative to didactic texts such as Sherwood’s The Fair child Family (1818), Edgeworth’s Moral Tales for Young People (1805), Kingsley’s The Water-Babies (1862) and MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1872). As a result, I believe that Carroll is truer to the spirit of educational reformers such as Rousseau and Locke, than Sherwood, Edgeworth and others who repressed rather than freed children to think beyond the parameters of convention and occupy narrative spaces to imagine and reflect.
Carroll destabilises and deconstructs childhood, rather than adhering to convention by consolidating, stabilising and sentimentalising it. At the time Carroll was writing, changes to the conceptualisation of childhood were occurring in debates about the age of consent, innocence and censorship and Carroll was engaged in these.
The Alice books are not religious but can be regarded as theodical since they explore conflicts such as fear of time, death and meaninglessness. Indeed I believe the Alice books express Dodgson’s crisis of faith in his questioning of didacticism and divine omnipotence, the latter through staging a radical disappearance of the narrator. The absence of an explicit moralising agent does not mean, however, that the Alice books lack a moral framework. Carroll transcends the category of didactic narrator and rather blasphemously assumes the role of omnipotent narrator. In this respect, his texts can be regarded retrospectively as postmodern. Indeed, it could be said that Humpty Dumpty is fragmented even before his fall. Carroll’s preoccupation with the organisation of time and space is evident in his work, which has been influenced by social changes from local to Greenwich Mean Time or Standard Time and in his creation of the “delayed timing” device used in his photography. Knoepflmacher believes that Alice is the embodiment of many of Carroll’s child friends, “the Alices and Gertrudes and Ethels [which were] so important to his psychological well-being” (Knoepflmacher, 1998, pp 214-215). This photographic approach is transferred to Wonderland where not one, but several Alices are depicted, exposed as snapshots of her development over time. In “collecting” children, Carroll extended the Victorian pastime and obsession of preserving birds’ eggs, catching and preserving butterflies and organising them by category, flower-pressing, philately and compilations of scrapbooks.
It is interesting that the term “adolescence” was only introduced at the end of the nineteenth-century and I believe Carroll’s Alice books were pioneering in signifying the transition and preparing the way for this change in psychological interest. His text is liminal and in flux, allowing him to explore issues relating to development and challenging the grounds on which progression is necessarily linear. The form of the text itself and its characterisation symbolise process – Alice herself is described as a “teetotum” (spinning top) – and transition, not surprising since the tale was conceived in motion, told on a boat and written on a train. It is reflexive with no clear beginning or end and as such it comments on the reflexivity of child and adult states. Alice represents the child reader undergoing the process of development. I argue that the death of childhood as represented in Alice is figurative, viewed as a mode of development. The form of this text represents both the process of construction and deconstruction and offers scope for reconstruction, reform and development.

Texte intégral

  • 1 There are two problems, however, with Rousseau’s theories on childhood as expounded in Emile, firs (...)

1Children’s literature was first published in the eighteenth century at a time when the philosophical ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on education and childhood were being discussed. Rousseau’s 1762 work, Emile or On Education is essentially a work that details his philosophy of education. He placed emphasis on the child being embraced in education and society as an active participant rather than passive or disengaged recipient.1 This culminated in the child being represented as an agent of reform, with change occurring within and through central characters.

2The first generation of children’s literature by Mary Martha Sherwood (The Fairchild Family, 1818), Maria Edgeworth (Moral Tales for Young People, 1805), Charles Kingsley (The Water Babies, 1862) and George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin, 1872) et al) was incongruous with Rousseau’s ideas since the works were didactic, constraining and demanded passive acceptance from their readers. Yet the second generation of children’s writers, from Lewis Carroll onwards, more truly embraced Rousseau’s broader philosophical ideas on education and childhood than their predecessors, encouraging and freeing readers to imagine, reflect and actively engage in ontological enquiry. Alice, therefore, provides a refreshing alternative to these didactic texts which repressed rather than freed children to think beyond the parameters of convention and to occupy narrative spaces.

  • 2 Examples of this can be seen in her failed attempt to correctly recite, “You are old, Father Willi (...)

3Carroll questioned generic convention in the way that he parodied the moral didacticism of books for children at the time he was writing. Carroll strongly reacts against his didactic predecessors in the way that he mocks conventional morality in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is exemplified in the way that Alice repeats didactic rhymes which she cannot complete or confuses lines.2 Writers such as Sherwood and Edgeworth were more explicitly didactic than Carroll whose moral messages become confused in the transfer from transmitter (adult) to receiver (child). Although Carroll’s friend, George MacDonald, acted as moral guardian to his child readers, he could also be regarded as an indoctrinator. Rather than creating a space in the act of writing or reading to scare children into submission as earlier didactic literature for children proposed to do, such as Edgeworth’s Moral Tales for Young People, from Lewis Carroll’s fiction onwards, children were valued, given the space to question, consider and evaluate the content of the books they chose to read. The narrative, imaginative and emotional space they occupied was not vacuous, a stale or a barren wasteland, but fertile ground in which to develop.

4This paper will investigate the “form” and “reform” of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—to change within the form of the text and through the form of Alice the character. Although Carroll may have fetishized childhood and commodified the child in print, the child was not passive in this process. In the Alice books Carroll takes us beyond conventional practice, activating the child from centuries of dormancy. Carroll rather unconventionally rendered the child active, as an agent of reform rather than passive amidst the process of change. For the first time since childhood was constructed in the eighteenth century, Carroll fostered the child’s ability not to merely accept didacticism but to question social morality. He creates characters and texts which are active agents in change who reflect and examine themselves and others.

5Carroll destabilises and deconstructs childhood, rather than adhering to convention by consolidating, stabilising and sentimentalising it. At the time Carroll was writing, changes to the conceptualisation of childhood were occurring in debates about the age of consent, innocence and censorship and Carroll was engaged in these.

6Lewis Carroll’s Alice books are deemed to be seminal to the genre of children’s literature. Virginia Lowe’s comment that “Alice is a ‘classic’ children’s work” (Lowe, 1994, p. 55) reflects so many others who categorise it as such. Contrary to Perry Nodelman in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature (Nodelman, 2002, p. 190), the Alice books are neither simple nor simplistic, are character-orientated rather than action-orientated, are not presented from the viewpoint of innocence, are not particularly optimistic or ending happily, mock didacticism rather than reinforcing it, and Carroll takes great pains to avoid being repetitious in diction or structure—indeed, he can be considered to be revolutionary in this regard. The Alice books, therefore neither are, nor ever have been, works of children’s fiction as outlined by this definition and yet it is, rather curiously, they are culturally regarded as such. Instead of consolidating the modem conception of childhood as innocent and sentimental, Carroll actively deconstructs this. The Alice books sit uneasily within the genre of children’s fiction, which is a category fraught with constructional and textual instabilities. It is ironic that it simultaneously typifies and yet disturbs childhood.

7I contend that the Alice books can be regarded as a catalyst for change in the construction of childhood and that the central character and form of this work actually symbolises process. Alice occupies this liminal position, yet she is also a conduit, remaining unchanged as the catalyst for change. Unlike his predecessors, Carroll values the child as an end in itself as much as he views the child as a means to the end of childhood. As a result, his Alice books perform a transitional role in the changing construction of childhood at that time. The death of childhood as represented in Alice is figurative, viewed as a mode of development. Very often Lewis’s characters inhabit “zones of marked instability” (Fanon, 1996, p. 101), spaces through which they can develop. To illustrate this process, I will begin by referring to the symbolism evident in each character.

8It seems to me that Lewis Carroll’s Alice represents the reader in the sense that they develop through the story, and, through them, the story develops. Although Alice the character is aged seven, Alice Liddell was ten at the time of writing the first draft of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, suggesting that Carroll was preoccupied with a girl on the point of transition to adulthood which would explain Alice’s inner instability and turmoil. Carroll’s belief that childhood does not clearly end is evident throughout his works. This is important to consider in relation to the wider theme of development, which permeates his fiction. It is worth considering whether the Alice that we first meet, when she falls asleep, is the same Alice as the one at the end of the book who wakes up. In other words, does Alice remain unchanged by her experiences in Wonderland, or does she actually change, and in which ways?

  • 3 Dodgson’s acquaintances with several Alices are documented in a photographic list compiled by him. (...)

9Carroll presents us with images of Alice at different moments in her development, as snapshots in time, exploring transience, fluidity and flux along the way. This reveals wider ontological concerns surrounding, for example, the persistence of time. Indeed, it seems to me that Carroll’s photographic approach impacts on his approach to writing, particularly that of time lapse photography. Knoepflmacher believes that Alice is the embodiment of many of Carroll’s child friends, and reflects his desire “to retain access to the Alices and Gertrudes and Ethels [which was] so important to his psychological well-being [that] his past and friture selves had to combine” (Knoepflmacher, 1998, pp. 214-215).3 It seems to me that in “collecting” children (Mavor, 1996, p. 7) Dodgson extended the Victorian pastime and obsession of preserving birds’eggs, catching and preserving butterflies and organising them by category, flower pressing, philately, and compilations of scrapbooks. Not one, but several Alices are depicted in Wonderland, exposed as snapshots of her development over time, using a delayed timing device allowing Carroll to occupy and step into moments. This method can be described effectively through reference to the popular Victorian toy, the zoetrope, which allows an image to be spun very fast, so that continuity through time is perceived.

10Crary describes the zoetrope as a machine in motion in which the observer was a component (Crary, 1992, p. 113). In her transition from observer to participant, Alice becomes “automated” (Noon, 1997) and finds her voice. Several of Carroll’s characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exist in a state of suspended animation, moving so quickly that the illusion of stasis is achieved through accelerated process. For Alice, this is illustrated in her fall down the rabbit hole which was either “very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty time to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next” (Carroll, 1865, p. 10). It is also exemplified to good effect in the Hatter’s tea party (Carroll, 1865, p64), in the Caucus Race (Carroll, 1865, p. 26) and in the Red Queen’s explanation to Alice that “here [... ] it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Carroll, 1872, p. 145). Each character symbolises process, creating conditions of motion which are conducive to development.

11Carroll realises, like his fictional character and self-representative (Pearce, 1996, p. 7) the White Knight, that for people who care about the best interests of the child, a certain distance has to be made-a space has to be created for the child to become an adult. The knight can prepare, but cannot lead Alice over to the next space on her developmental journey. He realises that development can only meaningfully occur within an individual on her own. This is illustrated in Alice’s recognition that the tune, which accompanies the knight’s song, is not his own invention but “I give thee all, I can no more” (Carroll, 1872, p. 219) and in the following conversation between Alice and the knight:

‘I don’t want to be anybody’s prisoner. I want to be a Queen.’
‘So you will, when you’ve crossed the next brook,’said the White Knight. ‘I’ll see you safe to the end of the wood—and then I must go back, you know. That’s the end of my move.’(Carroll, 1872, p. 211)

12She must find her own way, unaccompanied, to make the transitions which have developmental consequences. The creator is left behind as the creation proceeds, and the knight, like Carroll himself, disappears on the border when his role has been fulfilled. Knoepflmacher considers the notion of borders, permitting and denying entry to zones of fantasy, reality or development. He believes that in Alice’s Adventures, Carroll exerts “a sort of epistemological border patrol [to] preserve distinctions between rival notions of reality, yet also facilitate[s] a traffic between contraries” (Knoepflmacher, 1998, pp. 189-190). Confusions and reversals of this kind occur in the Alice books, suggesting that Carroll occupies the liminal terrain between object and subject. Interestingly, because Alice spends her life on borders, she is well placed, occupying a zone where transition can occur.

13Dodgson, himself, found transition difficult. Carroll’s belief that “about nine out of ten, I think, of my child friendships get ship wrecked at the critical point, ‘where the stream and river meet’” (Mavor, 1996, p. 133, endnote 50) suggests that he struggled with transition. Alice too struggled with transition, exemplified in the remark that “being so many different sizes a day is very confusing” (Carroll, 1865, p. 41) and in the question she raises about the sudden appearance of a crown on her head when she becomes Queen, “‘what is this on my head?’ she exclaimed [... ] as she put her hands up to something very heavy, that fitted tight all round her head. ‘But how can it have got there without my knowing it?’” (Carroll, 1872, p. 223).

14Carroll’s dis-ease with transition resulted in problems categorising childhood. In a letter to Marion Terry (2 August 1869), he remarked

My dear Polly, did you really take my messages for earnest, and are you really offended, young person you extraordinary creature, child, individual (Don’t you see what difficulties I’m in?) Why can’t you help me out with a word, like a good – (difficulty again) – member of the Human Species? I’m quite nervous as to every word I say, for fear of offending you again! (Carroll, 1869 quoted in Cohen and Green (eds), 1979, p 133)

15Change occurs both within and through Alice. It is interesting, in this connection, that the term, “adolescence”, was only introduced at the end of the nineteenth century (Mavor, 1996, p. 19). Indeed, Ariès’ argument that childhood is the privileged age of the nineteenth-century and adolescence the privileged age of the twentieth (Ariès, 1962, p. 32), suggests that Carroll’s Alice books can be regarded as liminal texts, signifying the transition and preparing the way for this change in psychological interest. The fact that the notion of adolescence was not introduced until after the Alice books had been published may also explain why they are so difficult to categorise since the category to which they best fitted had not yet been created.

16Indeed Carroll not only contributes to the deconstruction of childhood but also presages the metaphorical death of childhood and initiates discussions surrounding the era of the post-child in his allusions to “after time” (Carroll, 1865 in Green (ed.), 1982, p. 111), the term used by Alice’s older sister to describe that time after “child-life” (Mavor, 1996, p. 117) or adulthood. Photography was another way in which Dodgson attempted to defer death, by immortalising others (particularly children) in print. As Mavor suggests, “for Carroll, the photograph of the little girl served as a fetish simultaneously to ward off death” (Mavor, 1996, p35). At the time Carroll was writing, changes to the conceptualisation of childhood were also occurring in debates about the age of consent, innocence and censorship.

17Unlike his predecessors’, Carroll’s dialogue with children is not condescending; the direct speech of his narratives also allows his child readers directness. For the first time in the history of children’s literature, Carroll allows the child to speak directly rather than through an adult. This is ironic, however, since he speaks through the child in order to be heard. The speech impediment, which often rendered Carroll mute, puts him in adult company on a par with children who were, at that time, expected to be seen and not heard, thereby forging an understanding between and Carroll and the child. He stuttered in the company of adults, but the stutter almost completely disappeared when he spoke to children (Carpenter, 1985, p. 52).

18Falling down the rabbit-hole results in Alice being in flux and in her suspended development. While she is down the rabbit hole, time stands still and when she is in motion, or is spinning, time is similarly static. Indeed we find the Sheep in Through the Looking Glass enquiring whether Alice is a child or a “teetotum” (Carroll, 1872, p. 179) (a spinning top), since she is always in motion. Alice is a symptom of uncertain times; she is a symbol of process, development and motion. In this way, Carroll differs from his predecessors who ascribed the function of social regulator to the child. In her activity, she presages features of her representation that reflect the same concerns as postmodernism. Hope is therefore offered in her capacity to work through conflicts and so to develop.

19In reaction to the mechanisation of the new industrial society in the nineteenth-century, there was a concern that, “youth seems in danger of becoming a machine” (Sinclair quoted in Dusinberre, 1999, p. 74). Through subject and object reversals, Carroll parodies the way in which the Victorian industrial society constructed childhood as utility, as instrumental to the process of change and as an instrument through which social change can be brought about. Rendering the child as an animal and then as a machine maps the process of degeneration rather than progression and allows the society to control the child. As modernity and progress result in the degeneration of civilisation, the role of the child as pure saviour has been subverted. Regarding children’s fiction as a mechanism for social change seems to be a logical extension of the construction of the child as utility.

20Baker et al believe that there has been “insufficient focus on children as subjects” (Baker, Graham, Prescott and Williams, 1996). Something vital has been lost in the conversion of the child from subject to object. They are industrialised by the very society that sought to protect them from “the excesses of Industrial societies” (Jenks, 1996, p. 100). The child becomes a raw material. In The Child in Time (1987), Ian McEwan satirises this in the form of a fictional Authorised Childcare Handbook, which states “more than coal, more even than nuclear power, children are our greatest resource” (McEwan, 1987, p. 205). As a raw material, the child is malleable, knocked or moulded into shape, often physically, by adults. Childhood is defined and refined in them by this process. They are informed, reformed and sometimes deformed through the construction of childhood that represents them. Fixing the child as object implies that there is an extrinsic utility or “purpose of ‘childhood’” (Jenks, 1996, p. 120). This is far removed from the intrinsic worth of children evoked in the romantic idealisation of the child as essence. By fetishizing childhood as commodity, Carroll engaged in the process of change, particularly in relation to Alice as an agent in reform.

21His work is in process, representing development. There are two rival theories of development, the dominant Victorian theory of development, which constructs development as linear, stable and controllable, and the postmodern theory of development, which constructs development as non-linear, unstable and uncontrollable (Atkinson, 1999, p 17, Jenks, 1996, p. 51). This tendency is identifiable in the work of Lewis Carroll and demonstrates the foresight and retrospectively postmodern insights his Alice books offer. In order to develop, some stability must be present, but Carroll succeeds in exploring possibilities, impossibilities and flux. He exposes child characters and readers to situations that cannot be changed, reversed or undone. In this way, his characters respond to, and confront, irreversible situations, which ultimately enrich them. The cathartic experience of letting go, of losing fixity is, however, a risky business since Alice’s free-fall is both liberating and dangerous. The character of Humpty Dumpty “is paralysed, rigidified by his fear of change, so immobile that Alice initially mistook him for a’stuffed figure’” (Knoepflmacher, 1998, p. 216). His character seems to lack a human acceptance that life is unpredictable, that development cannot be controlled, and that nothing is certain and fixed. Humpty Dumpty is afraid to physically move, to complete and to fix sentences, for fear of the consequences. In this respect, he shirks fixity, defies telos and closure and typifies postmodem anxiety or “angst.” Indeed it could be said that Humpty Dumpty is fragmented even before his fall. The character of Humpty Dumpty most effectively typifies the postmodem condition as one who is fragmented and exists in a state of perpetual flux and on the edge of apparent chaos. He teeters on the brink of transition, occupying a position on the border of sense and nonsense.

22Carroll rather unconventionally adopts a non-linear approach in his writing, which allows him to subvert the literary convention of his time, which was to write linear didactic texts. The Alice books were radical in the way that they had no apparent moralising narrator. The narrator had not died, however, he had merely disappeared. The result of the lack of distinction Carroll makes between the adult and child is an unmediated directness, which allows the author to disappear, consequently absolving himself of moral responsibility for his work. Carroll’s presence is felt even through his absence. Even if he does not feature in the text, his perspective is offered, his presence is taken for granted and his involvement is assumed. The same is true in his (or rather Dodgson’s) photographic work where he remains hidden but he can manipulate shots. He parodies the role of omniscient narrator through the Cheshire Cat. Like an omniscient narrator, the Cheshire Cat is a guardian of the narrative, he oversees the action of the text and appears only to make the occasional remark and vanish. One instance of this is when Alice:

noticed a curious appearance in the air: it puzzled her very much at first, but after watching it a minute or two she made it out to be a grin, and she said to herself ‘It’s the Cheshire Cat: now I shall have somebody to talk to.’
‘How are you getting on?’ said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with.
Alice waited till the eyes appeared, and then nodded. ‘It’s no use speaking to it,’she thought, ‘till its ears have come, or at least one of them.’ In another minute the whole head appeared, and then Alice put down her flamingo, and began an account of the game, feeling very glad she had some one to listen to her. The Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight, and no more of it appeared. (Carroll, 1865, p. 75).

23In this way, Carroll conceals his moral agenda through parodying the explicit moral agendas of others. Carroll adopts a new approach from his predecessors and even from his contemporaries. His books are not didactic; indeed they subvert conventional morality and religion. Like the Cheshire Cat, however, Carroll is omnipresent in his work. The lack of moral authority in the Alice books seems directly connected to the apparent disorder that exists in Wonderland, yet Carroll controls his text from a divine position exerting an overarching order and implicit structure to his creation. Despite their obvious moral, the Alice books are not antagonistic to postmodernism for the reason that in the apparent disorder, there is order nevertheless (Gregory Smith, 1919). Carroll is not simply authorially omniscient. He transcends the category of didactic narrator and rather blasphemously assumes the role of omnipotent narrator. By this method he suggests that there is no divine order, and usurps the role of God. The fact that there is no explicit moralising agent does not mean, however, that the Alice books lack a moral framework.

  • 4 Harvey Darton, in Children’s Books in England, compared Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s 1865 pu (...)

24David Jasper discusses the religious role of literature in the Victorian era in The Study of Literature and Religion: An Introduction (1992). The function of literature at this time was as a means through which to express uncertainty in an attempt to restore faith or fill gaps through reconciling conflicts in a leap of faith. The Victorian crisis of faith anticipates the postmodern crisis of meaning. Literature of the Victorian era, such as the Alice books, reflect these crises and helps to regulate and work through social conflicts such as these, often through the child. Jasper notes, “literature at the turn of the century, it seems, had a religious role in the wake of the Victorian crisis of faith” (Jasper, 1992, p. 113). The Alice books are not religious,4 (despite being “canonized” and regarded as “seminal” works of children’s literature), but can be regarded as theodical since they explore conflicts such as fear of time, death and meaninglessness. I would even go so far as to suggest that though Dodgson was a member of the clergy, his Carrollian persona allowed him to explore crises of faith and meaning which he could not voice as a cleric. Parallels can perhaps be drawn between the obsessive reflections on death and the failure of religious belief systems in Carroll’s work. Fear is often of the closure of moments, of impending death, and for the Hatter, of Time always moving on (Carroll, 1865, p. 10). The rapidity of his movement reflects the rapid changes in a society where the pace of life has quickened and where individuals are very conscious of the pressures of clock time. Carroll’s preoccupation with the organisation of time and space is evident in his work, which has been influenced by social changes from local to Greenwich Man Time or Standard Time. These changes in the organisation of time were to affect the conceptual development of society and affected Dodgson. Because of these preoccupations with time and death—aspects which theodical and postmodern texts share—the Alice books can be regarded retrospectively as postmodern texts. They are concerned with, and represent, crises of faith that Dodgson was unable to voice as a cleric.

25Through these methods, he destabilises the modern conception of childhood. He expresses in his work, dis-ease with the modern conception of childhood. The creation of his Alice books marked a radical departure from sentimental constructions of childhood that were supported by many others at that time. His text is liminal and in flux, allowing him to explore issues relating to development and challenging the grounds on which progression is necessarily linear. The form of the text itself and its characterisation symbolise process (perhaps not surprising since it was conceived in motion, told on a boat and written on a train). It is a reflexive tale with no clear beginning or end and as such it comments on the reflexivity of child and adult states. The form of the novel, like the characters within it, has no fixed or definite sense of “telos.” Alice represents the child reader undergoing the process of development. She is in process, just as the text is conceived in motion or process. In this respect, the development of the text, the writer, the reader and the character can be traced.

26Alice like Peter Pan, Asian and Harry Potter all find themselves in flux. The implication for children’s fiction is that they are timeless and therefore vehicles through which readers can be changed. They act as catalysts for transformation. Each of the characters is in a spin or in motion. This suggests that they symbolise process or transition rather than the fixity of the end point or product. Significantly, each of these seminal works of the genre, is actively engaged in these postmodern areas and all have a great deal to contribute to philosophical discussions through engaging in an ontological process of reform and development. The form of these texts represents both the process of construction and deconstruction and offers scope for reconstruction, reform and development. Furthermore, this representation of children as process and active agents opens the way for a new appreciation of childhood.

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Notes

1 There are two problems, however, with Rousseau’s theories on childhood as expounded in Emile, firstly that his conception of innocence is bound up with his conception of childhood. Although he promotes giving the child freedom (within boundaries) to develop, he at the same time undermines this by conflating innocence with childhood, leading to a simplification of the condition of childhood. This instigated a deficit or reductionist model to represent childhood and children’s literature as simple and uncomplicated and led to children’s literature being overlooked and its cultural contribution being undermined.
Secondly, Rousseau does not value the role of children’s fiction in child development, believing that “books [... ] only teach one to talk about what one does not know” (Rousseau, 1762, p184). He had reservations about ‘artificial’ book learning over ‘natural’ or experiential learning which is strange at a time when there was a significant rise in print culture and consumerism. He felt there should be no mediation between the child and experience. The only book he endorses is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe because of the virtue of self-sufficiency it instils in the reader.

Although Rousseau advocates freeing the child to develop, he does not feel that reading fiction promotes child development, which is a weakness in an otherwise strong argument for educational reform. Rousseau’s failure to recognise the role that children’s fiction plays in children’s emotional, imaginative and intellectual development is surprising because it goes against his philosophy of freeing the child to explore. I feel that this view directly opposes the radical “progressive” pedagogy advocating freedom offered by Rousseau, which is far removed from the “repressive” pedagogy of constraint. Learning through exploration is best achieved through revealing rather than withholding information about the world and engagement with fiction can facilitate this.

2 Examples of this can be seen in her failed attempt to correctly recite, “You are old, Father William” (Carroll, 1865, pp42-25). Here Carroll parodies Robert Southey’s didactic poem “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them” (Gardner, 1970, p69, note 2) and “How doth the little” (Carroll, 1865, p 19).

3 Dodgson’s acquaintances with several Alices are documented in a photographic list compiled by him. Mavor explains, “on March twenty-fifth, 1863, Lewis Carroll composed a list of 107 names-girls’photographed or to be photographed’. The girls are grouped under their Christian names, all the Alices together” (Mavor, 1996, p. 7). Indeed this interest in merging children into one is reaffirmed in a letter sent from Dodgson to the child actress Isa Bowman in 1889. Here he suggests, “if I made friends with a dozen Princesses I would love you better than all of them together, even [if] I had them all rolled up into a sort of child-roly-poly” (Dodgson, 1889 quoted in Warner, 1998b, p. 411).

4 Harvey Darton, in Children’s Books in England, compared Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s 1865 publication to “a spiritual volcano” in literature (Darton, 1958, p 153). In 1892, however, Dodgson explained to a fellow cleric
In Sylvie and Bruno I took courage to introduce what I had entirely avoided in the two Alice books—some reference to subjects which are, after all, the only subjects of real interest in life, subject which are so intimately bound up with every topic of human interest that it needs more effort to avoid them than to touch on them (Dodgson, 1892 quoted in Collingwood (ed.), 1898, pp. 308-9).
Although God is not mentioned in the Alice books and, it seems, Carroll is concerned to avoid referring to religion in the tales, it is remarkable that “between 1888 and 1894, no fewer than three solemn pronouncements all signed ‘Lewis Carroll’ appeared to reaffirm this profound preoccupation” (Gattégno, 1977, p. 240).

Auteur

University of Dundee, Scotland
Gained a Master of Arts degree in English and Educational Studies at the University of Dundee and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Her topic was "Children’s Literature and the Deconstruction of Childhood" and explored the works of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. She has taught and researched in Further and Higher Education and now works as a Research Fellow in the Institute of Education at the University of Stirling where her interests include wider access activities.

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