Childhood Development in The Yellow Book, Volume 11

© Copyright 2017 Kristen Zaino, Ryerson University

Introduction

In the 1890s, otherwise known as the Fin de Siècle, the Yellow Book Magazine was a popular magazine that published short stories, art, poems, and music. In this digital exhibit I will discuss “An Early Chapter” by H. Gilbert, a short story written and published for the Yellow Book Volume 11. Unfortunately, there is little known about H. Gilbert, but he was not the only person within the Yellow Book that wrote short stories specifically on children and their early life of maturation. “An Early Chapter” is about children that attend a board school, and the relationships they have over the course of a school year, friendships and romantic relationships. Though their age is never stated, it is clear they are young but yearning to be older, or at least, pushing themselves to be older to fit an expectation.

The Yellow Book Volume 11 Cover. 1896. Public Domain.

1890s Context

My story explores child development and the children within these stories as they begin their transition into adulthood. The reader follows Arthur Neil, as he and his peers begin developing relationships, exploring their sexuality, learning to balance friendships with romantic interests and romantic relationships. My digital exhibit will explore the importance of children development, and why it was a significant topic within the Yellow Book. “An Early Chapter” also explores late childhood innocence, and the sexual desire that these children are slowly becoming more and more aware of. 

In the 1890s, people were just beginning to accept that “accept the idea that childhood should be a protected period of education and enjoyment” (Gubar, 1).  The children within this short story are definitely a part of this new and improved ideal of childhood, letting the children enjoy their adolescence without the worries of adult life. Except, though the Victorians “represented children as opposed by nature to the materialistic world of trade and profit, the figure of the child was commodified and put on display as never before” (Gubar, 1), such as The Yellow Book profiting off of stories like H. Gilbert’s “An Early Chapter”.

 

Critical Claim

This short story depicts childhood in the 1890s, but what I hope to find throughout my research is how these children were influenced into developing romantic relationships, and how it impacts their progression into adulthood. In order to critically analyze this story in relation to this aspect of 1890s culture, I need to learn more about childhood in this time, and learn if they are depicted the same way in other short stories or articles through the Yellow Book volumes or outside of the Yellow Book. It is important to study this topic because overall, the Yellow Book did not have much stories surrounding children and their development, and instead, focused on the lives of adults since it was more relatable that adults would be the target audience for the Yellow Book. There is a low amount of stories within the Yellow Book with children being the main characters, so it is important that through my research I find details about the expectations children had within the late 19th century.


Critical Analysis

In the article titled “History of Childhood” by Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner they discuss what childhood means, and what history has defined it as. Hawes and Hiner believe that childhood is “organized around three fundamental concepts: socialization, maturation and modernization” (Hawes and Hiner, 524). The one concept that I identified most within my close reading of “An Early Chapter” was maturation, which is simply the “biological process of growing up” (Hawes et. al, 524). All children experience this stage, no matter what, but for some people it may not come until they are already an adult. In the late 19th century, which is assumed when and where this story takes place, there was an expansion of public schools, helping more kids get into school and have an education. Though there were dramatic improvements for children and their childhood in the 19th century, child labor laws were unfortunately not implemented until middle of the 20th century, and only children of “the privileged elite escaped labor during their childhood” (Hawes et. al 526-527). This leads me to believe that the children within “An Early Chapter”, although not necessarily extremely wealthy by any means, were definitely better off than other families during the era they exist in. Childhood became redefined in these times, as children were gaining a “special, protected status” as they matured and came to understand the world, developing their own opinions, and more (Hawes et. al, 527). Gilbert was able to show very well how children acted in this stage of maturation. In “An Early Chapter”, Arthur, the main character, has a close friend name Alf, who is telling Arthur that he and his “sweetheart”, Kate, are fighting and he hopes Arthur can help to get them back together. Sweetheart was the term used to describe a boyfriend or girlfriend. When Arthur asks Alf what he did to offend Kate, he goes on to say, “She (Kate) said her mother was Queen of Fairies last Christmas in a pantomime, and I said she must have been a jolly heavy fairy then. You know, her mother is rather stout.” (Gilbert, 174). This shows just how immature these children still are, although they are developing romantic relationships and maturing slowly into adulthood, they still have a long way to go with developing what women do and do not like, such as not insulting your sweetheart’s mother.

The children within “An Early Chapter” are in between childhood and adulthood, but their adolescence throughout the story is still prominent. Such as the imaginary secret societies that Arthur, along with other boys, make up to play in the school yard (Gilbert, 169). These children who join Arthur Neil’s game begin to make it into a reality for fun, making “bows and arrows from umbrella ribs, tomahawks from blade bones and wood, and scalping knives from abstracted table cutlery..” (Gilbert, 169). Adolescence is a “time of increasing freedom, rebellion, stress, change, confrontation, experimentation, and tempestuous emotions” (Town, 7). In the novel American History Through Literature, author Caren J. Town has a long and informative discussion on what could be expected of children who are maturing and becoming their own person. Town discusses G. Stanley Hall, a psychologist who studied adolescence, and an important part of her discussion is when she states, paraphrasing from Hall’s influence, that adolescence is “an important stage of transition from the protected (and relatively simply) world of childhood, to the responsibilities of adulthood” (Town, 8).

Children’s class pictures from c. 1897. Real caption: A school in Swaton, Lincolnshire, ca. 1897. Vintage Everyday, 2015. Public Domain. 

In the modern society today, children are perceived as “pure and innocent in need of protection and nurture”, as influenced by the philosophy of Rousseau (Lowe, 1). Children need loving, thoughtful, and caring parents who will help them grow to be good civilians, as other people are taught to be as well. Within this story, it is clear at some points which children are being raised better, such as Arthur telling his friend Alf that it is not right to call his sweetheart’s mother “heavy” (Gilbert, 169). Children are also very free-spoken, unable to tell yet what is okay and what is not to say about someone or something else. Though their social class is never identified, it can be assumed here that possibly Alf is of a lower class than Arthur, making him slightly less established in the sophisticated sense.

Similarities in The Other Yellow Book Volumes, and “An Early Chapter”

In Volume 12 of The Yellow Book, the short story titled “Natalie” by Renee de Coutans depicts the early childhood of a young girl named Natalie, and as her mother plays a song on the piano, it makes her feel overwhelming emotions, making her cry and feel pain, that she is too young to understand. As she grows older, she hears the song again, and realizes what it truly means. This story relates to “An Early Chapter” because there are parts within the story where Winnie, Arthur’s first sweetheart, has overwhelming emotions, making her cry and be upset, just as young Natalie was when she heard her mother playing the “music of a poet’s love”, which for young Natalie was “music too great for a little child’s soul to bear” (Coutans, 247). In the article titled “Emotions and Music” by Jennifer Robinson and Robert S. Hatten, they discuss how music has always had an “intimate connection with the emotions”, and even though “An Early Chapter” does not discuss music and its connection with emotions, Winnie feels the same heartbreaking pain that Natalie feels when she hears the music her mother plays. When Winnie and Arthur broke up, Winnie’s brother Henry told Arthur that the night they broke up, “she had ‘cried her eyes out’..and had been cross ever since” (Gilbert, 180).


Conclusion

Unfortunately there is no direct reviews of H. Gilbert or “An Early Chapter” in the Yellow Book Volume 11, but H. Gilbert and Renee de Coutans were able to accomplish writing insights on a child’s development within their short stories. They were able to accurately depict the developing lives of children, who are developing emotions, transitioning into adulthood, and becoming their own individual. Over time, not much has changed in the way that children are perceived, since they are still nurtured by their parents, given an education, and most children are free to grow as they find themselves fit, developing relationships and their own opinions and views of the world. “Writers opened up new ways of think about the child mind” (Shuttleworth, 2), such as showing how these children thought of certain things before someone or something changed their view and they began thinking differently. It is important that writers continue to write about children and their experiences.


Works Cited

  • Gilbert, H. “An Early Chapter.” The Yellow Book 11 (Oct 1896): 168-183. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2013. 
  • Coutans, Renée de. “Natalie” The Yellow Book 12 (January 1897): 245-247. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2013. Web. [Date of access]. http://1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV12_decoutans_natalie.html
  • Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner, Ed. Bruce Jennings. Vol. 2. 4th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2014
  • Caren J. Town, “American History Through Literature” 1870-1920. Ed. Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. p7-13.
  • Shuttleworth, Sally. “Victorian Visions of Child Development.” The Lancet 379.9812 (2012): 212-3. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.
  • Rosemarie J. Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Early Years, Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences, Birmingham City University. Web. 17 Nov. 2017
  • Robinson, Jenefer, and Robert S. Hatten. “Emotions in Music.” Music Theory Spectrum, vol. 34, no. 2, 2012, pp. 71–106. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mts.2012.34.2.71.
  • Gubar, Marah. “The Victorian Child, c.1837-1901.” Historical Essays: The Victorian Child, University of Pittsburgh, www.representingchildhood.pitt.edu/victorian.htm.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purpose of research, private study, or education.

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