University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

'Nothing Wrong With Us Brits! the Repression of Mental Health Problems in English Texts Post WW2: an interdisciplinary approach.'

Levene, A. and Webb, Jean ORCID: (2011) 'Nothing Wrong With Us Brits! the Repression of Mental Health Problems in English Texts Post WW2: an interdisciplinary approach.'. In: IRSCL Bi-annual conference., August 16th, 2011, Brisbane, Australia. (Unpublished)

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This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of children's mental health in post-World War Two Britain. It combines medical history with textual analysis of children's literature to reveal a notable disjuncture between historical and literary images of mental health in the young. The central research question addressed in this paper is why did this disjuncture exist? Medical literature reveals a major concern about mental ill-health in children from the end of the nineteenth century, when the eugenic and Child Study Movements began to identify and chart physical and mental levels of attainment. Provision for child 'idiots' or 'mental defectives' was debated in the context of mental health legislation through the early part of the nineteenth century, as well as in discussions over education. The School Medical Service, and later, the large-scale evacuation of children into the countryside in the 1940s, highlighted the amount of mental fragility, nervous anxiety, and ill-health among the young, and also demonstrated the emotional impact of separation from parents, although it was not yet fully articulated in these terms. The medical community and those interested in social and educational policy were thus very well aware of maladjustment, nervous anxiety and 'mental deficiency' among children, although these problem remained socially stigmatised for some time. At the same time, however, these concerns were repressed in published literature for children where the stress was on health and vitality (for example, in the novels of Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville, C.S. Lewis and Arthur Ransom), as it were, re-building a national self-confidence in the light of 'having won the war and lost the peace'. Mental health per se does not emerge in children's literature until the late twentieth century where Bawden in 'Carrie's War' (1970), Magorian in 'Goodnight Mr Tom' (1981) and Morpurgo in 'Private Peaceful' (2003) write themes current in the present day back into history. This disjuncture in the treatment of children's mental health in medical history and literature has not been highlighted before, and is explained via a longer-term contextualisation of the history of child health.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
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Subjects: P Language and Literature > PZ Childrens literature
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 13:09
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2019 16:23

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