Kids & Digital Games

Nicola Pallitt's PhD Research Blog

The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture (2008)

Posted by nicolapallitt on November 1, 2009

  • During the rise of consumer culture in the nineteenth century, children and childhood were called on to fulfill a range of important roles. In addition to being consumers themselves, the young functioned as both ‘goods’ to be used and consumed by adults and as proof that middle-class materialist ventures were assisting in the formation of a more ethical society. Children also provided necessary labor and raw material for industry. This diverse collection addresses the roles assigned to children in the context of nineteenth-century consumer culture, at the same time that it remains steadfast in recognizing that the young did not simply exist within adult-articulated cultural contexts but were agents in their formation. Topics include toys and middle-class childhood; boyhood and toy theater; child performers on the Victorian stage; gender, sexuality and consumerism; imperialism in adventure fiction; the idealization of childhood as a form of adult entertainment and self-flattery; the commercialization of orphans; and the economics behind formulations of child poverty. Together, the essays demonstrate the rising investment both children and adults made in commodities as sources of identity and human worth.
  • Contents: Introduction: Small change: the consumerist designs of the 19th-century child, Dennis Denisoff. Part 1 Play Things: Toys and Theater: Experiments before breakfast: toys, education, and middle-class childhood, Teresa Michals; Paper dreams and romantic projections: the 19th-century toy theater, boyhood, and aesthetic play, Liz Farr; The drama of precocity: child performers on the Victorian stage, Marah Gubar. Part 2 Consuming Desires: ”I”m not a bit expensive”: Henry James and the sexualization of the Victorian girl, Michèle Mendelssohn; For-getting to eat: Alice”s mouthing metonymy, Carol Mavor; Salome”s lost childhood: Wilde”s daughter of Sodom, jugendstil culture, and the queer afterlife of a decadent myth, Richard A. Kaye. Part 3 Adulthood and Nationhood: Adult children”s literature in Victorian Britain, Claudia Nelson; Home Thoughts and Home Scenes: packaging middle-class childhood for Christmas consumption, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra; Maps, pirates and treasure: the commodification of imperialism in 19th-century boys” adventure fiction, Ymitri Mathison. Part 4 Children and the Terrors of Cultural Consumption: Toys and terror: Lucy Clifford”s Anyhow Stories, Patricia Demers; ”We have orphans […] in stock”: crime and the consumption of sensational children, Tamara S. Wagner; ”And now Tom being killed, and all spent and eaten”: children, consumption, and commerce in 19th-century child-protection discourse, Monica Flegel; Index.
  • About the Editor: Dennis Denisoff is a Research Chair in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Reviews: ‘From its scene-setting introduction to its closing studies of dead and dying children, this collection is a compelling read that offers new ways of thinking about such nineteenth-century phenomena and institutions as the family, the children’s book, the theater, toys, imperialism, and sensation fiction. In the process, it offers a salutary reminder that neither consumer culture not the festishization and commodification of youth is a new phenomenon, while highlighting continuities between adults and children, past and present, and the nexus of desire surrounding constructions of childhood then and now.’
    Kim Reynolds, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UKSource:

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