Behind the innocent face of Victorian fairy tales such as Through the Looking Glass or Mopsa the Fairy lurks the spectre of an intense nineteenth-century debate about the very nature -- and ownership -- of childhood. In the engagingly written Ventures into Childland, U. C. Knoepflmacher illuminates this debate. Offering brilliant rereadings of classics from the "Golden Age of Children's Literature" as well as literature commonly considered "grown-up", Knoepflmacher probes deeply into the relations between adults and children, adults and their own childhood selves, and between the lives of beloved Victorian authors and their "children's tales".
As Knoepflmacher shows, male and female constructions of childhood in these fairy tales differed radically. Male writers -- John Ruskin, William Makepeace Thackeray, George MacDonald, and Lewis Carroll -- often displayed an uneasy relation to adult gender roles. By privileging a special girl reader, they attempted to blur sexual differences and sentimentalize and arrested childhood. Female authors, on the other hand -- Jean Ingelow, Christina Rossetti, and Juliana Ewing -- tried to wrest fairy tales away from the male authors who had appropriated the genre. These women's tales relate fables of growth that are more grounded in actuality than the men's, and that more often allow their girl characters to mature.
These disputes are poignant at a time when our inherited notion of childhood as a precious preserve seems seriously threatened. Ventures into Childland will delight and instruct all readers of children's classics, and will be essential reading for students of Victorian culture and gender studies.