University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

'Overwork, Leisure and Health in Literature and Legislature in the Mid-nineteenth Century'.

Levene, A. and Webb, Jean ORCID: (2011) 'Overwork, Leisure and Health in Literature and Legislature in the Mid-nineteenth Century'. In: Child Health and Welfare in History invited symposium, November, 2011, St John’s Research Centre, Oxford.. (Unpublished)

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This interdisciplinary paper examines the ways that children's work was configured by contemporaries in relation to their health. By the time of the sustained enquiries into work in factories and mines in the 1830s, some conditions of work were clearly felt to be detrimental to child health. We examine how far this view was reflected in two types of writing which set the agenda for reformers for the rest of the century: Parliamentary reports and popular literature for children. Although the two genres were very different in many important respects they form part of the same social and cultural milieu, and between them were responsible for spreading a certain set of images and tropes very widely. However, as we will show, the preoccupations of writers in the two fields were generally quite different. The children who appear in the Parliamentary reports, and characters like Tom the chimney sweeper in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1862) or Diamond in George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1871), caught the attention of the public, but they stand in sharp contrast to the robust and carefree children in most novels of the time. Instead, overworked and unhealthy children are generally minor characters who are both morally instructive, and saveable, unlike the mass of child workers seen in parliamentary reports. By considering the two genres side by side, the paper offers a novel way of examining images of children’s work and the light it sheds on expectations of childhood health.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
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Subjects: P Language and Literature > PZ Childrens literature
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Jean Webb
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2012 17:44
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2019 16:23

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