LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Nature Does a Body Good: The Impact of Environment in The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre

In The Secret Garden, the theme of the environment and its effects on the characters is very prevalent. Because of this, it seems that Frances Hodgson Burnett was influenced in some ways by Jane Eyre. At the beginning of the story, Mary is a selfish, spoiled child. This attributed to the absence of her parents and the environment that she grows up in. India, which Burnett makes clear is a less than ideal place, is described as yellow, hot, and humid. The servants cater to her every need because they fear they will be condemned for not entertaining her whims and be a bother to the parents.

Jane walking on the moors (Jane Eyre 2011 movie)

Jane walking on the moors (Jane Eyre 2011 movie)

The children playing in the secret garden

The children playing in the secret garden








Similarly, Jane Eyre has absent parents (she is orphaned) and yet the servants and her only family treat her harshly and ignore her for the most part. Both Jane and Mary are considered to be ugly children who behave terribly and spend very limited time outside. One could argue that they both misbehave because they are a product of their indoor environments. Yet when each character is removed from their destructive environments—Mary back to idyllic England and  Jane far, far away from Gateshead—they are exposed to the outdoors and the wonders of the moors, which does much to improve their persons. Mary begins to love and care for others after she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, and her appearance and health improve drastically thanks to the openness of England’s moors. In Jane Eyre, when Jane flees from Thornfield Hall, she finds a brief safe haven with its natural resources. Likewise, Colin finds healing in the secret garden and Mr. Rochester finds peace at the remote Ferndean Manor (located deep in a forest away from society). The Victorians were very in favor of gardens and the many varieties of plants (thanks in part to Romantic and scientific interest in nature and biology), and yet they discouraged any real, long-term interaction with the wilderness and it seems that Burnett embraces that ideal. The great outdoors provides healing and escape for the characters of both The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre.

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“Hook or me this time!”

In Peter Pan and Wendy, J.M. Barrie introduces a new character: Captain James Hook. I find it interesting that Barrie would choose to place a “grown-up” in Neverland, regardless of the fact that he is a pirate—a popular source of imaginative entertainment. Hook is described as “cadaverous and blackavized” with long, dark curls and blue eyes that are “profoundly melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly” (Barrie 41).  Of course, he is also known for his hook as a hand. Hook is further described as courageous and always attempting to have good form though he fears only the sight of his own blood and the crocodile that lies in wait for him. PeterPan_HookBut why is he such an important figure in the story? Hook is the perfect foil to Peter—he represents what Peter could become. They are similar in that they both have lost their mothers in some way and they both feel lonely. We know from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens that Peter waited too late to fully return to his mother before finding that the window was barred and that he had been replaced. Hook alludes to his own mother leaving on page 68 when he speaks of the Never bird. Both Peter and Hook have had unfortunate pasts involving their mothers. Hook feels lonely, especially around his crew because they are beneath and therefore can’t understand him. Peter, a sort of captain of the Lost Boys in his own right, feels lonely in that he is the only child who does not grow up. Everyone leaves him eventually, though he constantly tries to replace them. Hook doesn’t like Peter because of his cockiness. Peter doesn’t like Hook not just because he is a villain but, I believe, because he is a grown up and Peter recognizes the similarities between Hook and himself—“Hook or me this time.” Only one can exist, and of course Peter must triumph.

Hook’s obsession with good form is pivotal in the story. He attempts to maintain good form even though he is technically the villain of the story. But this obsession proves that he may not be completely bad. In this case, Hook transforms from a villain to warning in that Peter could become like Hook. When he thinks Peter is dead, he is at a loss at what to do with himself now that he has followed through with his revenge. He now would serve no real purpose if Peter was truly dead. Yet when Hook dies, Peter has his string of “mothers” and all the lost children.

Although Hook is a grown-up and Peter is forever a child, it becomes apparent that if Peter were to grow up he would mirror Hook. If Hook had been excluded from the story, Peter would meet no obstacles from a sort of authority figure. He would just become a childish young dictator who flies on the seat of his pants and has mommy issues.

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“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”


Earlier this week in class, we discussed the possibility of Oz as a sort of utopian society. But is it just a ruse? Of course there is evidence that it is indeed a utopia: the “Wizard” of Oz is thought to be a wise and all-powerful leader that the people love and respect; the city is majestic with its bright, blinding color; it is an island unto itself, as it is separated from all the other parts of the land in its uniqueness. And yet there is evidence that it could be false, that the people are just looking at their world through emerald-colored glasses (quite literally). The people may be happy, but the wizard is not a wizard and lies to the people about his true identity. He is the leader/king, but as a general rule never holds audience with anyone who has an issue: “‘Oh, he will see you,” said the soldier…‘although he does not like to have people ask to see him…” [Baum 56]. He calls himself the “Great and Terrible”, which is quite contradictory in that he wishes to be both revered and feared—quite effective in squelching any opposition. Thus, it begins to sound more like a dictatorship than an actual utopia.


The Wizard looks after the people, but makes no effort to socialize with them (“‘Have you seen Oz?’/ ‘Oh, no,’ returned the soldier; ‘I have never seen him. But I spoke to him as he sat behind his screen and gave him your message’”) [Baum 54]. The gates are locked and guarded, though the city seems friendly. Is it a utopia then or just a prison of supposed happiness? This then begs the question of what it being kept out—or in. Is it for the Wicked Witches of the East (and the late West)? Though the Wizard may seem a friendly dictator, if such a thing is possible, he does not seem to have any qualms asking a little girl to kill a witch in order to grant her wish to go home. Surely a clever man such as himself, even if he didn’t have magic, could find a way to kill the witch if there were any major danger to the city. In this sense he acts more cowardly than the Cowardly Lion. Therefore, it is my belief that though Oz has some utopian-like qualities, there is something amiss behind the curtain.

Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. N.p.: Duke Classics, 2012. EPUB.

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Through the Looking Glass Bibliography

Bjork, Christina. The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland. 1st. ed. Stockholm: Raven and Sjorgren, 1993. 58-87. Print.


Carroll, Lewis, and Arthur Rackham. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: William Heinemann, 1907. Print.


Carroll, Lewis, and Helen Oxenbury. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 1999. Print.


Carroll, Lewis, and Iassen Ghiuselev. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. [Vancouver]: Simply Read, 2010. Print.


Carroll, Lewis, and Peter Newell. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: Harper & Brothers, 1901. Print.


Carroll, Lewis, and Salvador Dalí. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Maecenas, 1969. Print.


“Chortle.” Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 10 February 2013.


Sacksteder, William. “Looking Glass: A Treatise on Logic.” International Phenomeological Society. Vol. 27, No. 3. (1967): pp. 338-355. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <;.


Schaefer, David. Telephone Interview. 25 Jan 2013.


Schaefer, David & Maxine. The Tale of the Mouse’s Tail. Silver Spring: Mica Publishers, 1995. Print.


Schaefer, Mary and David. Where did you change? A light look at Bathing Machines. Bethany Beach: Mica Publishers, 2006. 3-42. Print.

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The Nonsenical and the Sentimental Canon

Just like Alice, the reader always gets swept away into Wonderland. The nonsensical and bizarre details of what we find there are exactly the things that make us want read it over again and pass on to our own children. In class, we were asked the big question: why the nonsense? For the most part, it contributes to the active imagination that we encourage in children. It is often said that a child’s imagination knows no bounds. Fantastical stories tend to be favored because they also provide a sense of escape from reality and Wonderland is that perfect escape. Things may not make perfect sense and everything may appear be topsy-turvy, but that’s exactly why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass exist and remain in the sentimental canon. Their popularity has survived so long because they don’t contain the sort of rigidity and seriousness that overcomes a children’s story when the author draws so much attention to state a moral, such as in The Water Babies. Though there may be violent acts present, it’s nothing like the violence we see in Pinocchio or even some of the classic fairy tales. Since Charles Dodgson’s first telling of the story to bored young girls, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was meant for amusement and entertainment. The nonsense is so creative and outlandish that no other book else can quite compare.


Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

As it has been passed down through the years in the sentimental canon, we have come to see proof that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is also timeless, as it has maintained such popularity over time. The hints we get of Alice’s life outside Wonderland is what every child continues to goes through. Both Alice and children today have lessons to learn, time to grow, and plenty of time to enjoy their childhood (“let children be children”). Children are and always will be curious.


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The God-Grandma

In The Princess and the Goblin, there are hints of religious aspects that can be found in the text. Irene’s great-great-grandmother is seen as a cross between a fairy godmother (as we see in past fairy tales such as Cinderella) and an omniscient, god-like figure. The grandmother is always willing to help Irene in times of need (following the godmother archetype), but there is a catch. She only helps Irene when she retains faith in the existence of the grandmother, thus giving her a god-like quality. Even MacDonald’s descriptions of her give her an ethereal suggestion: pale white skin, long silver hair, young yet old, wise, patient yet playful, supernatural qualities, mysterious. It seems that MacDonald attempts to slip in a Christian moral and remind the doubtful that they have to believe what they can’t see—you have to believe in order to receive.


However, I am of the opinion that the grandmother is omnipotent only to a certain degree. Though she helps others besides Irene, like Curdie’s mother, I think it is very easy to argue that she only did so that Curdie could help Irene in the future. If she knew about the flood and had the power to prevent it, why didn’t she? It seems she only cares for the true well-being of little Irene. This could in part be due to sort of loving, familial reason—as if it is to ensure that the heir to the throne and kingdom is kept away from danger. It seems as though her supernatural qualities only seek to aid her in accomplishing that goal. Why else would she choose to live so long, only to live alone where no one can find her while she sits and spins thread? In this sense, MacDonald is inventive with his merging of duel qualities of the grandmother (the god-like and the godmother), while not following the classic archetype normally presented in fairy tales.

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smithand Arthur Hughes

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith
and Arthur Hughes


Diary of Wimpy Men: the Feminine Males in Fairy Tales

As Disney and society tends to make us believe, the men in any story should be brave, heroic, manly–knights in shining armor. But some of the men in the classic fairy tales, in the presence of a strong heroine, are suddenly helpless.

In Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, there is a constant theme of the weaker male in order for the heroine to succeed. brothers and the father “cried real tears” (De Beaumont, 36) whereas Beauty’s sisters had to fake them with onions when Beauty had to depart to the Beast’s castle in luau of her father. Beauty, the decidedly not damsel in would-be distress, doesn’t even shed a tear.

The father seems to be entirely helpless when he lost in the storm and at the hands of the Beast: “he heard a loud noise and saw a beast coming toward him. It looked so dreadful that he almost fainted…the merchant fell to his knees and, hands clasped, pleaded with the beast” (De Beaumont, 34-35). Beauty on the other hand, shows more composure upon first meeting the beast: “she could not help but tremble at the sight of this horrible figure, but she tried as hard as she could to stay calm.” (De Beaumont, 37). Beauty shows more composure in the face of danger than her father. The father even allows her to die in place, as opposed to finding a loophole using any sort of cleverness. So why does the male have to be less masculine in order for the woman to fill in as heroine? The perceived gender roles should, in theory, not have to flip in order to have them both maintain a sense of courage in the face of danger. Such a trade-off in traditional roles is not even something feminists can complain about!

Even the beast, who maintains his sternness in the early part  of the story basically commits suicide in the end because of loniless losses a bit of that masculine credibility. In order for the female character to be allowed as the heroine, the beast has to fail (as opposed the option of just finding her himself–he’s the one that owns the magic mirror!). It is understood that it just a fairy tale, but it shouldn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t be strong.

Thus, this problem begs the question of why the female character is allowed to be more masculine and the male characters a little more feminine. It could be that in the father’s case, his obligations to his family cause him to be more aware of what the loss of his life would cost them, causing him to be more pleading with the Beast. One could argue that Beaut had already excepted her fate of death, made peace with that fact, and was rewarded for her kindness and virtue in order to accomplish the moral example that De Beaumont attempts to set for young girls. But the Beast has no apparent excuse other than any prior sins, which he actually could have improved on in his solitude.


De Beaument, Jeanne-Marie. “Beauty And The Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42. Print.

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Kerry Elkins Introduction

Hello, my name is Kerry Elkins. I am a third year English major, with minors in both Art History and Mass Communications. I hail from Fort Myers, Florida (where Edison’s summer home is). After graduating, I plan to pursue a Master’s in Library Science with a specialization in archiving and preservation.

I am taking this class for a number of reasons, not just to fulfill course requirements. As much I have enjoyed my British Literature and theory classes, I think children’s literature would be a welcome break this semester–something new and different. I figured this was an opportune time to take it, since I am interning at the UF Baldwin Library (the children’s literature special collection) this semester. I look forward to getting a new perspective on some of my favorite texts from my childhood, especially Winnie-the-Pooh and the fairy tales, and hope to become privy to any of the deeper meanings in the texts that I might have missed as a child. This is my first children’s literature course.

My idea of “children’s literature” is a text geared toward children, but that can also be enjoyed by adults in some manner (as they are often the ones that read it to their children). When someone mentions the term I also think of illustrations, which is a huge part of the industry. Illustrations have played such an important role in children’s literature in how (as in both style and medium) certain things are depicted, what specific things they depict, and who depicted them. For instance, the Baldwin Library has a rare edition of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali. I believe that the  “Golden Age” refers to the classics that set a standard–a canon, if you will–for the genre. Of course this makes me question how those standards are also limiting to other texts of the genre.

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