For centuries, children and childhood have been variously – and very controversially – discussed: childhood is obviously time-, culture and gender-bound. The present study investigates the (re-)construction of childhood within nineteenth-century adult non-fiction – more specifically, in Victorian women’s autobiographies. The textual basis for this is Valerie Sanders’s representative work Records of Girlhood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Women’s Childhoods (Ashgate 2000). The primary texts discussed testify to the outstanding contribution of the women writers, both to the discourse of childhood and of autobiography as a special form of self-writing.
Childhood is treated here as a major key to central issues of a whole age and culture. This leads to a more differentiated assessment of the nineteenth century at large, which complements and modifies the evidence conveyed through other forms of narrative discourse, e.g. male and female fiction. Additionally, the multiple connections between the historical phenomena studied in this book and the current debates about children, family, upbringing, education, schooling, reading etc. become evident. In other words, larger nineteenth-century concerns as manifest in the representation of childhood and the role and status of children in literature point to significant current societal issues.
The field of studies is Childhood Studies. Methodologically they allow for the investigation of various important issues connected with childhood, and for a broad range of methods and critical approaches to be integrated with one another. Of particular interest is the interaction between the image of the child (especially of girls), conceptions of childhood/girlhood, and narrative transmission/the literary mode of presentation (narrative structures, techniques and strategies; rhetorical devices).
Working within the discipline of British Literary Studies (literary theory and criticism, literary history, generic poetics, textual analysis, aesthetics), the present study applies various critical approaches to the texts, such as close reading, narratology, deconstruction, contextualization, New Historicism, Gender and Cultural Studies. At the same time, as the children’s culture of the nineteenth century is explored here in its various manifestations, the investigation draws on a number of other discourses, such as educational theory, pedagogy, psychology, didactics, sociology, medicine, religion, philosophy, and history of art.