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Chapter 5 - Impossible Monsters, Rabbit Holes, and New Worlds

The Unstable Ground of Science and Education in the Children’s Fairy Tale and Fantasy Literature of the 1860s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2024

Pamela K. Gilbert
Affiliation:
University of Florida
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Summary

Heralded as the decade that launched the “Golden Age” of children’s literature, the 1860s saw the growth of fairy tales, fantasy, and imperial romance, and concerns about education and empire. The 1860s major children’s fantasy works, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market[GK2] [GK3](1862), Charles Kingsley’s Water-Babies [GK4](1863), and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [GK5](1865), share striking similarities. The trope of unstable ground in these texts offers insight into the anxieties of the era with implications for education and imperial stewardship. The unearthing of fossils along with debates over Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species[GK6] (1859) created unease about the unknown and disrupted established knowledge about the timeline for creation. Carroll’s, Kingsley’s, and Rossetti’s texts reveal uncertainties of science (especially the newly articulated domains of geology, paleontology, archeology, and geography), the inadequacies of education, and the legacy of empire. In their hands, unstable ground is not only a plot device and a metaphor, but a warning.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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