Graveyards or wonderlands have more often than firesides and
nurseries been the element in which we encounter the child in
English literature, and Robert Pattison begins his narrative by
asking why literary children are seldom associated with parents and
family, but instead repeatedly occur as solitary figures against a
background of social and philosophic melancholy. In a skillful
fusion of theology, social history, and literature, Pattison
isolates and analyzes the repeated conjunction of the literary
figure of the child with two fundamental ideas of Western
culture--the fall of man and the concept of Original Sin.
His study of child figures used in English literature and their
antecedents in classical literature and early Christian writing
documents the symbiotic development of an idea and an image.
Pattison encounters a wide range of literary offspring, among whom
are Marvell's little girls, Gray's young Etonians, Blake's children
of innocence and experience, the youthful narrators of Dickens and
Gosse, the children of George Eliot and Henry James, and the young
protagonists in the children's literature of James Janeway,
Christina Rossetti, and Lewis Carroll.
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