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Title: Notions of childhood in London theatre, 1880-1905
Author: Crozier, Brian Alington McGillivray
ISNI:       0000 0001 3399 0395
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1981
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This thesis points to a broadly based change in attitudes underlying the late Victorian interest in childhood which had largely separate roots in the principal class sub-cultures within the society. It takes the theatre, the most widely representative cultural form of the period, as the best index to these, and finds the clearest division in the theatre public between the upper working and lower middle classes, and the middle and upper middle classes. In the first of these, urban melodrama and the case study offered by George R. Sims indicate a transformation of the child from a symbol of poverty and deprivation to a representative of working class humour and vitality between the l880s and l890s. This change reflected general falls in rates of birth and child mortality, but was more directly related to the particular effects on the upper working and lower middle classes of changing economic conditions and suburbanisation, as well as to the sensationalist tendencies of melodrama itself. It took the form of an adoption by the child of existing stereotyped roles rather than of any celebration of childhood itself as a state, and should therefore be seen as largely distinct from the cult of childhood among the middle and upper middle classes. This was located mainly among the wives of these classes, encouraged as they were to adopt a more sentimental attitude towards their children by a sharper decline in the birth rate among them than among classes below them on the social scale, the general decline in child mortality and the assumption by domestics of the practical aspects of child care. The evidence of the plays suggests that the notion of the child as a miniature participant in adult family and social life, characteristic of the first phase of the theatrical child cult (c .1887-c.1891), was the product of this heightened sentimentality and of efforts to involve children in the rituals of conspicuous leisure. The thesis goes on to define a second phase of the child cult, beginning late in the 1890s after a hiatus in the first part of the decade and stressing children's unique vitality and the integrity of childhood imagination. The resulting notion of the child as the hero of his own imaginative world is best exemplified in Peter Pan. Two main conclusions emerge from this argument. The first is that while aspects of the transformation in notions of childhood were general, its expression differed in both kind and degree between the two main cultural groups, and that it was most marked among the upper social classes. The second is that the 'cult of childhood' among these classes evolved through two distinct phases (c.1887-c.189l and c.1898 to the end of the period) which produced quite different images of childhood.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Literature