MARIA GRAZIA RINIERI
Tesi di laurea in Lingue e Letterature Straniere Moderne - Università degli Studi di Milano: A Child's History of England di Charles Dickens
Relatore: Prof.ssa Clotilde de Stasio
My thesis focuses on A Child's History of England, a work by Charles Dickens written around 1850, and chronologically situated between much more famous works such as David Copperfield and Hard Times.
Studying biographical evidences, it emerges that Dickens wrote the little history primarily for his son Charlie, to give him an address in politics through the perusal of the British past. Besides, he might have written it to offer a chance of instruction to the people of lower classes: as we know, he had always been involved in charitable projects.
From the survey of critical assessments, I noticed how the majority of critics dismiss Child's History as a failure among so many successes, as his novels were. There is just one voice among them who praises it for being a work offering vast entertainment. But I must add that the chief reason why it has been criticised is that critics expected the History to be a historical work - which is not, and never intended to be - and accused Dickens of historical inaccuracy. And because of the scarcity of critical studies on the work, I turned to primary sources such as his letters, his speeches and his literary production too, to elucidate the meaning of the Child's History.
Finally, I suggest that the work should be read with ingenuousness, and that through it we can catch many hints that the author gives us concerning his ethics. A moral view that we find just as well in his novels.
Child's History is not unique in its genre, we had therefore the opportunity of comparing it with an Italian work, entitled Giannetto, which contains a history of Italy, and which was written in more or less the same period. What comes out from this comparison is that Dickens's work is much more modern in telling history to children: in fact he skips those heavy moral judgements so severely introduced by Parravicini - the author of Giannetto - even when he defines in very clear terms the various British monarchs. Dickens therefore is able to convey his moral views without being moralistic.
Dickens's work appears much more modern even when compared to other Victorian histories of England for children, such as Mrs Markham's (Elizabeth Penrose) History of England (1823) and Lady Callcott's Little Arthur's History of England (1835), and even when compared to a more recent work of the same kind such as Belloc's History (1926). The style of Dickens is similar, in a sense, to that of his novels: it is alternately quick and lively or solemn, and full of every efficacious images, as in the description of the death of Thomas à Becket. The narration of the story of Joan of Arc is full of irony, whereas admiration is the feeling that pervades the description of King Alfred.
My hypothesis is that the book has never been recognized, either in the XIX, or in the XX century, because we are in front of a brand new way of writing history for children or, I ought to say, for families. It did not receive the right appreciation in the past because Victorians were used to what Dickens called a stultifying childhood literature. At present it is hidden behind the overwhelming success of Dickens's novels, and possibly by commercial interests, whose goal is market, not literary works.
At the end of my study there is an appendix concerning Holiday Romance, also belonging to Dickens's literary production for children, a work in which we do not find the poor and exploited infancy we meet in his novels, but brave and daring children besides telling themselves stories.
Finally I would like to point out how such a neglected work, neglected in Italy for sure, and as it seems not only in Italy, offers the privilege of discovering Dickens from a more unusual and private angle.
Here follows a bibliography concerning critical studies on the Child's History:
1)Dennis Birch, "A Forgotten Book", The Dickensian, 51 (Summer 1955), 125, pp. 121-6 e 154-7. 2)G.K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticism of the Works of Charles Dickens, J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd., Londra, 1911.
3)G.K. Chesterton, Introduzione a: C. Dickens, A Child's History of England, Dent, London, 1907, 1913.
4)John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (1872-4), edited by J.W.T. Ley, Cecil Palmer, Londra, 1928.
5)Stanley Friedman, "English 'History' and the Midpoint of Bleak House", The Dickensian, 83 (2(412)), pp.89-92, 1987 Summer, London.
6)Derek Hudson, Introduzione a: C. Dickens, Master Humphrey's Clock and A Child's History of England, (1958), Oxford Universitry Press, Londra, 1966(3).
7)Rosemary Jann, "Fact, Fiction, and Interpreation in A Child's History of England", Dickens Quarterly, pp. 199-205, 4(4), 1987 Dec., New Brunswick, NJ.
8)C.Th. Lion, Dickens Selected Chapters from A Child's History of England. Hrsg. von H.Engelmann (Book Review) BESPRECHUNGEN/Schulausgaben. Velhagen und Klasings English Authors. Neubearbeitung aelterer Ausgaben. Englische Studien 42 (1910) 435.
9)C.Th. Lion, Selected Chapters from A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens. 1.Baendchen. Mit Anmerkungen zum Schulgebrauch hrsgeg. von H. Engelmann (Book Review), Besprechungen/Sprach-und litteraturgeschichte, Englische Studien 27 (1900) 311.
10)Thomas Daniel Murphy, "A Child's History of England", The Dickensian, 52 (1956) 157-161. 11)Carlo Pagetti, "Hard Times/Heart Times/Art Times" in: Rossana Bonadei, Clotilde de Stasio, Carlo Pagetti, Alessandro Vescovi (edited by), Dickens the Craft of Fiction and the Challenges of Reading, Edizioni Unicopli, Milano, 2000.
12)Una Pope-Hennessey, Charles Dickens, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1970, p.424. 13)George Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1895) (1896), Macmillan, London, 1925 (12).
14)George Bernard Shaw, Pen Portraits and Reviews, Constable and Company, London, 1949(3), pp.221-3.
15)Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Letteratura Inglese in: Opere, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1997, p.1038.
16)A.W. Ward-A.R. Waller (editors), The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol.XIII: The Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1916, p.329.
17)Berry Westburg, " 'His Allegorical Way of Expressing It': Civil War and Psychic Conflict in Oliver Twist and A Child's History", in: Graham Clarke (General Editor), CRITICAL ASSESSMENTS OF WRITERS IN ENGLISH, The Helm Information, 1995: CHARLES DICKENS, Critical Assessments, Edited by Michael Hollington. 4 vols. Vol. II.
18)The Letters of CHARLES DICKENS: Vol.One, 1820-39, edited by Madeline House-Graham Storey, 1965; Vol.Two, 1840-1, edited by M.House-G.Storey, 1969; Vol.Three, 1842-3, edited by M.House-G.Storey-Kathleen Tillotson, 1974; Vol.Four, 1844-6, edited by K.Tillotson, 1977; Vol.Five, 1847-9, edited by G.Storey-K.J.Fielding, 1981, 1989(2); Vol.Six, 1850-2, edited by G.Storey-K.Tillotson-Nina Burgis, 1988, The Clarendon Press, Oxford.