Edited Transcripts

Children! with Saffia Widdershins, Myrtil Igaly and Jimmy Branagh

Viv Trafalgar: Ladies and Gentlemen… and urchins! Welcome to the January Aether Salon – Children! A look at the experience of and literature about children in Victorian England, as well as in New Babbage. A look at the experience of and literature about children in Victorian England, as well as in New Babbage.

We are pleased to welcome you to our fourteenth Salon – we think you will find the experience most enlightening, though some of the images and language may be fairly hair-raising. If you have a weak stomach… oh well if you did, you wouldn’t be in the Steamlands – nevermind that.

The Aether Salon meets to discuss steam and Victorian topics on the third Sunday of each month, in Palisades, New Babbage. You can learn more at http://aethersalon.blogspot.com.

We sincerely appreciate the support we receive from everyone in the community, and we humbly thank you all. Many fine people have contributed to today’s Salon; we are grateful to Miss Ceejay Writer, Mr. Rafael Fabre, Captain Redgirl Llewellen, Canolli Capalini of Capalini Fine Furnishings for the chairs, and Miss Breezy Carver and Miss Ahnyanka Delphin for the stage.

Please hold your questions until the end, and as a courtesy to all, please turn off everything that remotely resembles HUDs, scripts, AOs and so on. Please no weapons, bombs, or biting, without at least a modicum of wit accompanying.

Viv Trafalgar: Mark your calendars for upcoming salons: A special Saturday Salon on February 20 featuring Capalini Music Boxes. (No better rezzay could there be, ever I tell you.) Ahem. Upcoming Salons will include Haberdashery with Mr. Edward Pierce, Ironclads with Commodore Hotspur O’Toole, Photography with Mr PJ Trenton, and Airwaves with Miss Gabrielle Riel.

Please join the Aether Salon group and receive notifications of future salon events, click the lower right hand corner of the large brown sign by the entrance. As a reminder, all speakers’ fund jar donations go directly to the speakers.

I’d like to welcome Miss Jedburgh Dagger to introduce the speakers.

Jedburgh30 Dagger: Thank you, Viv. Today it is my great honor to introduce today’s speakers: Saffia Widdershins is best known, perhaps, as the editor of The Primgraph and Prim Perfect magazines, and as the presenter of Designing Worlds on Treet TV. But for her first degree, she studied English Literature and, as part of that degree, wrote a dissertation on children’s literature – which has remained a love. It was called a Consideration of Human Relationships in Children’s Literature 1850 – 1950, with particular reference to the school story, and Saffia was planning to call the spin-off book Beatings and Bosom Friends. That, sadly, was never written – but Miss Widdershins joins us today to share some aspects of the genre, which she hopes we may find of interest

Jimmy Branagh came to New Babbage nearly three years ago, following Loki Eliot into town after having escaped the cruel tutelage of the orphanage where he’d been imprisoned for five years following the death of his parents in a mysterious house fire. At that time the urchin population was exploding and Jim made many friends among them and the fine people of New Babbage, a growing town that seemed to take the urchins under its wing. He is a veteran of much of the history of the city, including the terrible Eliot Affair and the battle with Jason Moriarity; the strange tale of the Babbage Cuckoos; the attack on Doctor Obolensky’s Clockspire Cove; the mysteries of Dagon Hall and the rescue of Miss Mara Razor from the clutches of the Mole King. He won the 2008 Annual New Babbage Burning Barrel Race and the Pancake Race.

He is currently Captain of the New Babbage Aether Corps and designer of the first combat ornithopter in New Babbage history. Jimmy has been attacked, tortured, severely pummeled and even marginally insulted by the evil that occasionally rises in New Babbage, but saunters back each time from the precipice with a smile on his face and a drink in his hand. He is ineffably loyal to New Babbage and to his friends

Myrtil has been wandering in the streets of New Babbage for three years. Orphaned at 5 years old and sent to an orphanage, she escaped five years later. She is happy to say she can always count on all her friends to help her and cheer her up, having had a few problems with her crazy aunt and cousin and mourning the loss of the bakery she inheriting from her grandfather on Jefferson Way after it was bombed. Myrtil just recently moved to the city of Steelhead, near the Saint Helens, where her squirrel Flynn and her are enjoying the fresh air and wild nature, and she is trying to restore an old windmill in the woods near the river. She still likes visiting New Babbage from time to time though, as it is, after all, her birth-city. Myrtil wants to become an airship pilot, like her father, and is fascinated by the medical sciences. Nevertheless, she is not going to school.

Saffia Widdershins: Hello everyone … I’m delighted to be here today to talk to you about a subject I love – a love that is not shared by everyone. In fact … when I was a student, I was able to do my research in the Bodleian Library, one of the finest libraries in the world and – as a copyright library – the holder of a copy of every book published – including children’s books. It has fantastic repositories (known as the stacks).

A significant part of central Oxford sits on top of layer after layer of booklined cellars that stretch almost a mile. A small train ferries books from these shelves to the elevators where they can be lifted into the main library

On my first day of studying, I strode confidently to the desk and presented a list of volumes I wanted from the stacks. “It will take a day and a half to get these,” said the librarian. “They’re stored at our external stacks at Nuneham Courtney.” This is a manor house, about five miles outside Oxford.

“Are you sure?” I responded, surprised. “Some of these books are quite recently published.”

The librarian permitted herself a frosty smile. “We don’t have many child readers in the Bodleian,” she said. Well, with me put firmly in my place, let’s proceed to the meeting of my talk today!

It goes without saying that children’s books are, with very few exceptions, written by adults for children and therefore can be expected to tell us something of how adults perceive the children they write for.

And two strands of the writing become clear, as we might also see in writing for adults too: the desire to inform, and the desire to entertain. And there is also a recognition that information may be best occasioned through entertainment. We can see this in many forms of media dissemination, from the creation of, for example, textbooks that teach schoolchildren a foreign language

In this presentation, I’m proposing to concentrate on fiction rather than instructional writing for children – although there was considerable overlap between the two. I’ll be looking at the nineteenth century, which saw the first real explosion of fiction for children. Right from the start, it was clear that there were two distinct ways of regarding children – and that these would play a part in the development of children’s fiction.

The first comes from the Evangelical tradition, in England represented by the Methodists and later by the growing Evangelical movement within the Church of England. You might see it as epitomized by Mrs Pardiggle in Bleak House, with her unruly and obnoxious bunch of boys, going to distribute her tracts to the unwilling poor. There was an intense belief here children were the products of Original Sin – that they were infected with Original Sin themselves (which manifested itself in naughty behaviour).

And it was this which inspired one of the early classics of the genre – The History of the Fairchild Family, by Mrs Sherwood. The first part was published in 1818; the second and third parts between 1842 and 1847. I should say that Miss Puchkina has placed on the table here copies of many of the volumes I shall be referring to and you can take copies away to peruse at your leisure

The History of the Fairchild Family is a heavily instructional volume, thick with prayers and exhortations to virtue – almost every chapter contains prayers to be used by the children reading it.

And the incidents that are related are quite shocking to us in their extremity – when his children quarrel, Mr Fairchild takes them to see the body of a murderer suspended on a gibbet; Augusta Noble, a spoiled child of wealthy parents who takes up candles when forbidden to do so, in order to admire her pretty frock … and is burned to death. The funeral, too, is described in detail.

The popularity of the book actually continued throughout the nineteenth century, although accommodations were made for changing tastes; for example the phrase “human depravity” was replaced with the word “naughtiness.”

Over the years, this didactic strain in children’s literature was softened – and sometimes even blended with fantasy. We can see this in stories like Down the Snow Stairs by Alice Corkran, first published in 1887, where on Christmas Eve, eight-year-old Kitty cannot sleep, knowing that her beloved little brother is critically ill due to her own disobedience.

Traveling in a dream to Naughty Children Land, she meets many strange people, including Daddy Coax and Lady Love. Kitty longs to return to the Path of Obedience but has to resist the many temptations she faces.

And, perhaps more widely known is Charles Kingsley’s fantasy, The Water Babies, first published in 1862-1863 – Victorian serial publication! – with its tale of the poor chimney sweep, Tom, who is drowned, and then finds moral redemption through those redoubtable female instructresses: Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. There’s a picture up in one corner showing Mr Kinglsley – and illustrations from his book. In fact, the posters around here are intended to act as illustrations to this 🙂

Interestingly, most critics have focused on the moral instruction of the tale, and ignored its approach to science – Kingsley, a muscular Christian, was a supporter of Darwin’s and Huxley’s approach to science and evolution.

His attitude was that he had “gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore and pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which He Himself had made.”

At the same time, an alternative strand was growing up. The origins of this lay in the romantic tradition, and in the teachings of the Swiss French philosopher, Jean- Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778). Raised in strictly Protestant – indeed, Calvinist – Geneva, he rebelled against its doctrine of the total depravity of man when he converted to Catholicism as a teenager. In one of his most famous works, Emile, or On Education, he describes what he conceived to be the necessary and perfect education for producing the ideal citizen.

It contained ideas that were revolutionary – that children should not be swaddled, that they should be nursed by their own mothers and – above all – that education of young children should be derived less from books and more from interactions with the natural world. That last seems to be the practice with regard to the Babbage urchins!

Rousseau’s philosophy had a profound impact on ideas about child-rearing – and still has even today (Montessori schools, for example). In the nineteenth century, to follow Rousseau was to be daring, almost shockingly in rebellion against a societal desire that children should be disciplined, should be seen and not heard. But, bolstered by the popularity of the English Romantics – particularly Wordsworth – the concept that children could learn from nature, would benefit from freedom in childhood under the watchful gaze of loving parents, gained apace.

And this was reflected in children’s literature where a strand developed that laid stress not on the corruption and depravity from which children must be rescued by brute force, but on the innocence of childhood, which became something to be encouraged. A belief that might be regarded with some skepticism by those well acquainted with the urchins!
And, along with the innocence came mischief, as the cult of what was known as the ‘Pickle’ was created. A pickle was a child who engaged in mischief – innocent mischief, undertaken for the best of intentions, sometimes; at other times undertaken with slightly more intent.

This strand in literature was to lead to such wonderful creations as The Bastable Family of E.Nesbit and the Just William stories of Richmal Compton. But in Victorian times, it was a theme treated with more sentimentality, by writers such as Margaret Gatty (Mrs Gatty) in Aunt Judy’s Tales, her daughter Juliana Horatia Ewing, Mrs Ewing in novels such as Jackanapes (1884), and Mary Louisa Molesworth (Mrs Molesworth) in Hoodie (1882).

One thing notable about the Pickle stories in the use of ‘baby talk’ which was popularly supposed to be endearing. It can make the stories difficult to read these days, as much as the historical novels of writers as diverse as Sir Walter Scott and Charlotte M.Yonge that employ ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. And, believe me, the baby talk of the Pickles is pretty much on a level with the baby talk you have used by some Second Life Children.

The naughtiness of the pickle could be forgiven, because all recognised the worth of their true character. In Teddy: The Story of a Little Pickle by J. C. Hutcheson (1887), Teddy is spoken of as a ‘genial, good-tempered, and happy-dispositioned boy’ who possesses ‘pluck or fearless spirit’. For these qualities, much could be forgiven.

The Pickle stories, I think it’s worth noting, essentially concern middle class children. That’s not to say that children in a wide range of social classes are incapable of being naughty … as witnessed by the Babbage urchins. But by and large literature aimed at the working classes did not wish to encourage naughtiness, even innocent, high-spirited mischief.

This was an age when the working classes were expected to know their place – and be grateful for what treats might come their way – such as a Sunday school outing in the country – beautifully described in one of Charlotte M.Yonge’s novels, Hopes and Fears.

One significant feature of the Pickle stories was the frequent use of a dangerous – sometimes fatal accident, an accident that marked a grave change in the novel. Either the central character is injured, or he or she causes injury to a sibling. In the latter case, the injured child was likely to survive, and the main character would learn what would be deemed a “valuable lesson” that would lead to their reformation – or at least to their becoming more mature and responsible. But sometimes the child died – a reflection of the fact that at this period, infant mortality was high, and it was not unexpected to lose one or maybe more children before they reached adulthood.

Interestingly, as the period progressed, the nature of child death changed. We see this in adult novels too – there is quite a change from the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop – highly sentimentalized but actually occurring off-stage, to the death of Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son, to the polemical death of Jo in Bleak House and – finally – to what I find the most moving child death in all Dickens, the death of little Johnnie in Our Mutual Friend.

Here Dickens abandons highly wrought prose for the simplicity that Shakespeare uses for breaking the news of the death of the Macduff family – and by gum, it works. In children’s literature, there were also a great number of deaths – at first serving Dire Warrnings as in the burning to death of Augusta Noble in The History of the Fairchild Family, but as the century wore on, the deaths became less warnings and instead occasions for sentiment, till by Florence Montgomery’s Misunderstood in 1869, Humphrey’s dying takes up a third of the book.

Misunderstood was intended to be read by adults as well as children, but in, in actual fact, the child death – or the child injury – was not uncommon in books intended for children too – including many of the examples I cited earlier, and others such as Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894), Little Women Part 2 by Louisa M Alcott (1869), A Bit o’ Green by Mrs. Ewing and many more.

One motif that became common in such books was the dying child’s desire to hear prayers. This was, of course, shorthand for informing the readers that the dying child was in a state of grace and would be going to heaven – similar to the way that dying children frequently were described of having visions of their dead mothers, other children, and/or flowers. As the century wore on, this convention became altered – often the prayers would be replaced by hymns … then by songs the children had loved.

Until we come to the most bizarre example of all – A Toy Tragedy by Mrs. Henry de la Pasture (1906), where the siblings gather around the deathbed of their sister, a pickle of the first order, and, at her command, serenade her dying with the much-loved song: “Come landlord, fill the flowing bowl”

There’s much more that I could say – for example on the sadism and sexuality of the portrayal of beatings in boys’ school stories, some of which read rather like classics of some rather dubious genres.

There’s also the cult of the dead mother – and why that was maintained well into the twentieth century. But I hope to have whetted your appetites enough for you to learn more! The End 🙂

Jedburgh30 Dagger: Now folks, we turn the stage over to Jimmy and Myrtil…

Jimmy Branagh: Oy guess Oy should sye “Ladies first” eh, Myrtil?

Myrtil Igaly: Yes, that’s ladies first

Jedburgh30 Dagger: To get their perspective on urchindom and their perspectives on child life in Victorian times

Myrtil Igaly: no!!! No no, go ahead Jimmy

Jimmy Branagh: You sure Myrtil? Allroight. This toime … ((I’ll drop my usual Cockney for the time being. 🙂 )) I first came to Babbage after being on the grid for only a couple of months.

Myrtil Igaly: Told you you were hard to understand..

Jimmy Branagh: Loki was involved in building, and I came to see what he was doing. There were already a few kids around. I had no idea how to be an urchin. My experience with this era all came from seeing the film OLIVER! and from the Masterpiece Theatre shows. So I just applied what I remembered from there and it seemed to work out allright

Myrtil Igaly: You learnt the accent there too?

Jimmy Branagh: Gradually, when your here playing that role, you pick up bits and pieces from others, and expand your character that way. I knew zip about the Victorian era. But since then, I’ve learned quite a bit.

We tend to romanticize the era here; even the bad stuff has a comic or happy edge to it. But the fact is, it was a terrible time to grow up in, even if you were in the upper classes.

Myrtil Igaly: We’re certainly happier here than most urchins of the period

Jimmy Branagh: Children were considered small versions of adults in a large way, and were expected to behave accordingly. To be an orphan in Victorian England, and living by your wits in the ghettos must have been horrible.

Anyway, I’m glad I found this place. I’ve been here nearly three years now, and love it more and more. Myrtil? Ready? Wake up!

Myrtil Igaly: Yup

Jimmy Branagh grins

Myrtil Igaly wakes up

Myrtil Igaly: Well I’ve arrived here about two years ago and like Jimmy I found Babbage thanks to Loki. I think that most of the urchins in Babbage are directly or indirectly his doing

Then I didn’t know anything either about Victorian times or even Steampunk. But that was fantastic to discover it and I came to love it

I guess being a kid in a victorian steampunk environment, I could have chosen to be any kind of victorian child but being an urchin sounded more “fun”

I don’t see a lot of upper class children around. Not many kids in Babbage are in family if any at all.

During the victorian era, the rich children were in big families, lots of brothers and sisters, and they were often taken care of by a nanny and didn’t see their parents very often. They had a room to play in and stuff but they also had to go to school. I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to play here

Now, working class children were very poor and had no toys. Actually from 5 to 10, school had been made obligatory.

Sandi Levee: No toys?!

Myrtil Igaly: Not fancy ones at least. On one hand they didn’t really go to school, but on the other hand they had to work to help their families

Taliesin Daines: No obligatory school in England until late 19th century

Myrtil Igaly: yup, I’m taking Babbage’s time as a base Taliesin 🙂 We’re around 1880 something

Myrtil Igaly: The children in the working classes had to work to help their families, but the unfair thing is that they were paid less than adults cause they were smaller so the factory owners thought they had to earn less. And many died doing those jobs. They worked in mines, in cotton mills, in chimneys.

So yes, I decided I didn’t want to play a working class child either. And also I didn’t want any parents so I became an orphan urchin which is the perfect most amusing way to be a kid in Babbage

We beg for food, we… borrow stuff

Jimmy Branagh: Some of the workin’ kids were as young as three years old. Yeh they helped push carts

Myrtil Igaly: I’m kinda done, so if you have questions for any of us, I guess it’s time!

Viv Trafalgar: yes now we’ll have questions – please say who you’re directing to

Saffia Widdershins: a Sunday school was where many working class children learned to read and write

KlausWulfenbach Outlander: Little ones could pick up dropped parts.

Viv Trafalgar: and then i’ll set out the craft – oh what well behaved Urchins

Serafina Puchkina: Thank you, gentle speakers! Before we open the floor to questions for all of our speakers, I’d like to announce the February Aether Salon. We are shaking things up a bit. Miss Canolli Capalini will discuss music boxes (she makes wonderful, beautiful, exquisite music boxes) AND we will have a party to celebrate a certain person’s rez day cough Miss Viv cough

Viv Trafalgar: Thank you Jimmy! Thank you Myrtil – very informative. Whoops

Cliodna Oakleaf: are there other children in Babbage who aren’t urchins?

Vivi Boxen: Miss my Yeah when did the industrial revolution, and when did the children work the cotton minds?

Saffia Widdershins: It was more that children carried on working – until laws in the 1840s (largely) began to regulate what they could and couldn’t do

Jimmy Branagh: There ‘ave been a few hoity-toity type kids aroun’, but we don’t see ’em too often.

Taliesin Daines: Cotton mills from late 18th century onwards

Saffia Widdershins: they had originally worked in the fields …. when life became industrialised, they carried on working

Jedburgh30 Dagger: Child labor was common prior to the Industrial Revolution as well…

Saffia Widdershins: until there was a growing awareness that this was wrong

Jimmy Branagh: Yeh, a few. Don’t see them of’en either.

Anastasio Luminos: I was just wondering, are there any teenagers in New Babbage?

Saffia Widdershins: I can share a couple of things that shows what conditions could be llike …

Taliesin Daines: Read the novel Michael Armstrong by Frances Trollope to find out how the conditions were for children in factories in the 1830s

Myrtil Igaly: Yes there are teens

Saffia Widdershins: There’s a song called The Testimony of Patience Kershaw. It was taken from the evidence a child gave to a Commission into Child Labour and it is heartbreaking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmhACB1ZPQM

Cliodna Oakleaf: where I live we had a lot of Jute mills, and I know even to the early 1900’s children were used because their small hands could clean parts adults couldn’t

Saffia Widdershins: You can see more about the job she did – hurrying – here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurrying

Rod Zeddmore: Saffia…What book could you recommend to us people who are more familiar with contemporary works?
Something that will be good and entertaining, but not bogged down in weird language we can’t understand?

Saffia Widdershins: I would start with E Nesbit. Something like The Treasure Seekers

Taliesin Daines: Wouldbegoods is also my fav

Saffia Widdershins: or if you want a touch of fantasy mixed in, The Phoenix and the Carpet

Myrtil Igaly: Think we’re done, you can start baby talking again Jimmy

Viv Trafalgar: I’m going to – oh my — Put out the craft

Serafina Puchkina: Please join us for a rez day party and to hear about music boxes. Here at 2pm slt on SATURDAY February 20. Today’s craft was generously donated by Myrtil Igaly and Beq Janus. You can also take copies of the books Miss Saffia mentioned over here

Jimmy Branagh: Thanks for coming Everyone!

Serafina Puchkina: Congratulations speakers! This was wonderful!

Viv Trafalgar: Thank you anastasio — she says slightly rumpled and unnerved

Taliesin Daines: The Woulldbegoods is the sequel to the Treasure Seekers

Viv Trafalgar: i’ll be giving the speakers fund to the speakers in about a minute if the speakers will come over for a moment? Thank you all so much! This was brilliant!

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