The children's progress : late-nineteenth-century children's culture, the Stephen juvenilia, and Virginia Woolf's argument with her past
This thesis situates the life and work of Virginia Woolf in a socio-literary history of writing by, and attitudes towards, children. It explores late-Victorian middle-class children's lives, and the relationships between parents and children during the period. Although Darwinian ideals had begun to influence parents earlier in the century, it was not until the 1870s that they seem to have become prevalent in middle-class families. Through an examination of the expansion of evolutionary and developmental stage theories in the late Victorian years, the thesis puts forth the theory that middle-class adults of the period saw children as containing adult potential. It makes a study of how this view affected middle-class family life, child rearing, and children's culture during the period. It particularly investigates linguistic developmental theory and its effect on reading and writing education, and late-Victorian ideas of children's sexual development and the need for sexual education. The thesis examines how such theories led to changes in writing by children during the period, exploring nineteenth-century works by children, and focusing on the home manuscript magazine genre. It questions the late-Victorian belief that children wrote spontaneously and "naturally." It situates the juvenile writings of the Stephen children (of whom Woolf was one), using these texts as typical products of the late-nineteenth-century middle-class familial and cultural context that the thesis examines. This study allows me to propose a critical definition of late-nineteenth-century children's home magazine writing. The thesis goes on to argue that Woolf, while recognizing herself as a product of the late-Victorian middle classes and retaining some of the authorial qualities evident in her family's juvenile works, rebelled against the late- Victorian evolutionist-developmentalist view of childhood, and helped to create a new language in the process.