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Evolution and Imagination in Victorian Children's Literature


Part of Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: December 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107566811

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About the Authors
  • Evolutionary theory sparked numerous speculations about human development, and one of the most ardently embraced was the idea that children are animals recapitulating the ascent of the species. After Darwin's Origin of Species, scientific, pedagogical, and literary works featuring beastly babes and wild children interrogated how our ancestors evolved and what children must do in order to repeat this course to humanity. Exploring fictions by Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Kingsley, and Margaret Gatty, Jessica Straley argues that Victorian children's literature not only adopted this new taxonomy of the animal child, but also suggested ways to complete the child's evolution. In the midst of debates about elementary education and the rising dominance of the sciences, children's authors plotted miniaturized evolutions for their protagonists and readers and, more pointedly, proposed that the decisive evolutionary leap for both our ancestors and ourselves is the advent of the literary imagination.

    • Explores the convergence of nineteenth-century evolutionary theory, Victorian educational reform, and the 'Golden Age' of children's literature
    • Discusses scientific theories drawn from a wide array of nineteenth-century evolutionary thought
    • Examines the work of Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Kingsley and Margaret Gatty
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Her insightful discussions of some of the most important writers of the Golden Age of children's literature in the context of developments in science and the British educational system leave us in no doubt as to the veracity of this statement; the greatest evolutionary leap for both the authors and for us is the arrival of the literary imagination.' Jane M. Ekstam, English Studies

    'Evolution and Imagination in Victorian Children's Literature is a highly detailed book about British 19th-century children's literature and the impact of Darwin's evolutionary theory … The book is intended for historians, literary scholars, teachers and students of literature, as well as curious enthusiasts who would like to expand their knowledge of fascinating social changes in the Victorian era.' Helena Horžiæ, Libri and Liberi

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107566811
    • length: 270 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 151 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.4kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: how the child lost its tail
    1. The child's view of nature: Margaret Gatty and the challenge to natural theology
    2. Amphibious tendencies: Charles Kingsley, Herbert Spencer, and evolutionary education
    3. Generic variability: Lewis Carroll, scientific nonsense, and literary parody
    4. The cure of the wild: Rudyard Kipling and evolutionary adolescence at home and abroad
    5. Home grown: Frances Hodgson Burnett and the cultivation of feminine evolution
    Conclusion: recapitulation reconsidered.

  • Author

    Jessica Straley, University of Utah
    Jessica Straley is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Utah. She has published articles on evolutionary theory, vivisection, and Victorian literature in Victorian Studies and Nineteenth-Century Literature, and has contributed a chapter to Drawing on the Victorians: The Palimpsest of Victorian and Neo-Victorian Graphic Texts, edited by Anna Maria Jones and Rebecca N. Mitchell (2016).

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