Unravelling Punishment The Representation of Punitive Practices in Golden Age Children’s Literature in France, England and America
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The thesis analyses the complexities at the heart of the representation of punitive practices in French, English and American books published during the Golden Age of children’s literature. This study juxtaposes twelve titles by major children’s writers published between 1859 and 1905 which demonstrate a shift away from bodily violence towards the internalisation of moral rules through less physical and more insidious means of discipline. The works of this period have not been examined from this perspective before, as the Golden Age tends to be associated with pleasure and entertainment. Punishment and discipline did nevertheless also continue to play a key role, resulting in complex and compelling works. In this corpus, the representation of the prison and characters’ experience of confinement express adults’ empathy for and anxiety about children’s desire for liberty, while simultaneously justifying the need to limit their freedom. The writers in our corpus acknowledge the potent impact that the vicarious experience of the suffering of others has and use it to make narratives both pleasurable and instructive. Authors are keen to explain and justify the use of punishment, but also acutely aware of the impact this may have on the enjoyment of readers. This thesis explores not only young characters’ experiences of punishment, but also its ricochet effects on adult characters and readers. Because punitive rationales are entwined with adults’ protective justifications and their sense of obligation, punishment becomes a shared experience between children (within and beyond the text) and adults. Punishment is understood and proffered as a fundamentally collaborative enterprise, in which children are given the illusion of autonomy, with varying degrees according to the gender of the characters and the place of publication of the work in question. The outcomes of this thesis have an interdisciplinary dimension, pertaining notably to research on the construction of childhood, the history of emotions and space in literature.
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