The Re-Enchanters of the World. The Wind in the Willows (1908) and an Edwardian View on Childhood.
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The study’s main aim is to offer a contribution to the childhood and nostalgia debate in the field of the golden age of children’s literature. This period in British children’s fiction ranges over several decades, from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1920s. From the 1980s and 1990s the prevailing view in studies on this golden age of children’s literature has been that books from this period idealise childhood in order to meet the author’s need to escape the modern time and its disappointments. In this view it is believed that the Victorians and Edwardians have adopted the Romantic idea of the innocent child and tried to coerce the child readers into conforming to that nostalgic ideal. This is not a view posed by one scholar, but is best described as an entity of theories and is called the ‘cult of the child’. It determines the debate about the views on childhood in the Victorian and Edwardian period and leaves little room for differentiations. This present study is arguing that this approach is too rigid and is instead proposing a broader approach in which there is room for the cult of the child, but in a more balanced way. Using Svetlana Boym’s theory on the different uses of nostalgia, this study claims that the cult of the child approach could be seen as one of the two forms of nostalgia that Boym describes. The case of The Wind in the Willows (1908), a children’s book from the golden age, is used to support this argument. Analysing both the representations of childhood in the book itself, and the way these representations were received upon publication, it is demonstrated that the cult’s approach towards childhood is certainly visible in both, but that it is not the sole approach. With this argument, the study hopes to contribute to future studies on children’s literature from the golden age and, on a more general level, research on Edwardian views on childhood.