Moving nimbly between literary and historical texts, Monica Flegel provides a much-needed interpretive framework for understanding the specific formulation of child cruelty popularized by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the late nineteenth century. Flegel considers a wide range of well-known and more obscure texts from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth, including philosophical writings by Locke and Rousseau, poetry by Coleridge, Blake, and Caroline Norton, works by journalists and reformers like Henry Mayhew and Mary Carpenter, and novels by Frances Trollope, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Morrison. Taking up crucial topics such as the linking of children with animals, the figure of the child performer, the relationship between commerce and child endangerment, and the problem of juvenile delinquency, Flegel examines the emergence of child abuse as a subject of legal and social concern in England, and its connection to earlier, primarily literary representations of endangered children. With the emergence of the NSPCC and the new crime of cruelty to children, new professions and genres, such as child protection and social casework, supplanted literary works as the authoritative voices in the definition of social ills and their cure. Flegel argues that this development had material effects on the lives of children, as well as profound implications for the role of class in representations of suffering and abused children. Combining nuanced close readings of individual texts with persuasive interpretations of their influences and limitations, Flegel's book makes a significant contribution to the history of childhood, social welfare, the family, and Victorian philanthropy.
'Monica Flegel makes a major contribution to scholarship on the construction of childhood, child abuse, family intervention, and social welfare. This highly readable, interdisciplinary work will be a most valuable addition to the growing field of childhood studies.' Lydia Murdoch, Vassar College, USA ’A good resource work for students and scholars, Flegel’s text is accessible and lucid, offering some useful close readings within a historical context and interpretive framework. It could serve as a critical companion to studies of poverty, urban spaces, or delinquency.’ New Books on Literature-19 ’This book should be of interest to scholars and historians of nineteenth-century childhood, offering new readings of familiar texts as well as the presentation of altogether new material. It is a significant contribution to scholarship on the ideological work of childhood in the Victorian period.’ Journal of British Studies ’No one will read this book without admiring the skill and insight with which Flegel has built up a picture of [many] narratives.’ Victorian Studies 'Flegel's informative text is a timely addition to the Ashgate Studies in Childhood series… Flegel's often energetic and accessible text is a valuable addition to a broad spectrum of fields, including social history, Victorian studies and childhood.' English Studies '[This book's] strength lies in the way it presents well-known material in an original light. Its use of literary texts is particularly good…This excellent book is truly interdisciplinary and will be of interest to anyone concerned with the history of childhood in England and the representations of children's lives in literature and social policy.' Journal of Childhood in the Past 'This book adds to the growing field of studies of nineteenth-century childhood.' Dickens Quarterly