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JULIE A. CARLSON That “Fine Word” Illegitimate: Children in Late Georgian Theater1 Upon a board Whence an attendant of the theatre Served out refreshments, had this child been placed, And there he sate environed with a ring Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men And shameless women . . . . . . but I behold The lovely boy as I beheld him then, Among the wretched and the falsely gay, Like one of those who walked with hair unsinged Amid the fiery furnace. —William Wordsworth The Prelude 7:383—88, 395—99 A mong the surprising finds revealed by online publication of the Godwin Diary is the frequency with which William Godwin attended London theater. At the height of his playgoing, Godwin attended theater eighty times a year, frequenting blockbuster spectacles as well as legitimate fare. Over the span of the diary (1788—1836), he records attending theater close to 2,000 times.2 Even more intriguing is the number of times that Godwin records taking one or more ofhis children to Drury Lane, Covent Garden, the Haymarket, Sadler’s Wells, Astley’s Amphitheatre, and other I. Jane Moody, “‘Fine Word, Legitimate’: Toward a Theatrical History of Romanti­ cism,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 38, nos. 3—4 (1996): 223—44. I am extremely grateful to David Mayer (also external member on Jane’s dissertation committee) for won­ derful email exchanges during the early stages of this paper, and to research assistance by Mary Jane Davis, a Ph.D. candidate in Romanticism at University of California, Santa Barbara. 2. The Diary of William Godwin, eds. Victoria Myers, David O’Shaughnessy, and Mark Philp (Oxford: Oxford Digital Library, 2010), http://godwindiary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk, ac­ cessed 20 August 2014. SiR, 54 (Summer 2015) 187 188 JULIE A. CARLSON public exhibitions. Out ofa total of one hundred eighty-three references to his stepdaughter Fanny in the diary, thirty pertain to attendance at theater (versus fifteen to Coleridge’s 1811—12 lectures and six to painting-related exhibits). Oftwenty-six references to his son William from 1803 until 1817 (that is, until he is fourteen), twelve, or virtually half, involve trips to the theater (as compared to three trips to a fair, three to Coleridge’s lectures, and one to an art exhibition). Godwin’s use of “M” to designate Mary as well as James Marshal makes ascertaining Mary’s early theater visits difficult—there is a possibility that she was with Fanny at the viewing of Castle Spectre and Children in the Wood on 15 November 1799, though she would have only been two, and the annotators conclude that “M” refers to Marshal. Her first confirmed playgoing occurs at age three and a half, when she attends Shylock and Harlequin’s Tour on 2 January 1801, with three more theater visits that year and four in 1802. Fanny is four the first time that Godwin takes her to see Children in the Wood, and together they attend theater three more times the following year. William is eight when he sees his first play, Pizarro, at Covent Garden, a play that his father had seen al­ ready thirteen times before. As usual, Godwin’s diary provides no com­ mentary on why he took his young children to the theater or what they experienced while there, but the fact oftheir attendance suggests that going to the theater played some role in Godwin’s practices of childrearing and notions of suitable entertainment for them. To what extent is Godwin anomalous in this notion or practice? Were children under fourteen visible attenders of theater in London and, if so, how did this affect adults or children as playgoers? Were children’s visits dictated primarily by theater-based or extra-theatrical concerns? That is, can we correlate their presence to the showing of particular plays, genres, and actors or was it largely dependent on what types of care were unavail­ able elsewhere? Moreover, what mode of childrearing would taking young children to late Georgian theater imply? Abusive? Fantasy-friendly? Cava­ lier? Would it reinforce or contradict the wealth of writing in the period on children’s minds and pedagogical requirements, complement or com­ pete with the burgeoning market for children’s...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 187-209
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-13
Open Access
No
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