- Time of Beauty, Time of Fear: The Romantic Legacy in the Literature of Childhooded. by James Holt McGavran, Jr.
James Holt McGavran’s third collection of essays on childhood and the Romantic legacy from the eighteenth century to the present, Time of Beauty, Time of Fear, testifies both to the richness of the topic and to the advantages and drawbacks of his editorial formula. In this volume, he again assembles a strong roster of contributors. All the chapters here—twelve, in addition to the introduction by McGavran and Jennifer Smith Daniel—are thoughtful and clearly written, and could profitably be assigned in undergraduate and graduate courses; indeed, I will be putting two to immediate use in that capacity.
As in his earlier volumes, McGavran and his contributors do not seek to distinguish between works about children and adolescents, such as William Wordsworth’s Michaeland Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christabel, and works for children, here ranging from the late eighteenth century to the early twenty-first and embracing examples from classic novels such as Mary Louisa Molesworth’s The Tapestry Roomto contemporary television shows and graphic novels. Although the critical juxtaposition of children’s texts with the “literature of childhood” for adult readers is by now a commonplace of the field, stronger introductory commentary on how works for these different audiences speak to (and against) one another would be useful not only in orienting readers who are new to the field, but also in creating a more unified volume. The chapters here have a tendency to drift apart; the overarching thesis of the volume, that Romanticism continues to influence our thinking about childhood and that Romantics saw youth as a time of “fear” (especially on the part of adults) as well as a time of “beauty,” is by now insufficiently powerful to draw the collection together. Yet if in 2012 the complexity and continuing potency of Romantic approaches to childhood is unlikely to come as news to literary scholars, this is partly because of earlier work done by McGavran himself. And certainly this volume is a worthy successor to what we might see as the earlier installments represented by McGavran’s Romanticism and Children’s Literature in Nineteenth-Century England(1991) and Literature and the Child: Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations(1999).
Organizationally, the volume falls naturally into three sections, each containing four chapters: the Romantic period, the Victorian period, and the 1960s to the present, with the first two sections focusing exclusively upon Britain and the third focusing primarily upon the United States. (Jan [End Page 195]Susina’s chapter on the Teletubbies is largely concerned with their influence on American programming and, by implication, American children.) In a number of cases—some productive exceptions are Jochen Petzold’s look at the extent to which late nineteenth-century references to bird-nesting as encouraging cruelty or manliness reflect attitudes on display in Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Claudia Mills’s tracing of Rousseauian echoes in contemporary fiction about home-schooled children, and Roderick McGillis’s explication of the visual and philosophical importance of William Blake to Moore’s art—there is comparatively little explicit and developed discussion of principles identified as Romantic. Rather, readers are expected to know the Romantic when they see it, needing little guidance beyond quick orienting comments such as “The program is positively Wordsworthian in spirit with the innocent Teletubbies playing endlessly in an idealized garden” (186), or to take for granted that work published during the half-century or so on either side of the year 1800 is appropriately so designated. Thus, for instance, Mary Ellis Gibson’s examination of early nineteenth-century children’s missionary magazines explores how such publications worked “to constitute a gendered, classed, and defensively British subjectivity in [their] readers” (106) and “anticipated later developments in publishing by creating mass market forms even in advance of technological change” (109); the focus here is on evangelicalism, and readers interested in the complex question of the extent to which evangelicalism should...