How is the relationship between children and the social norms of the nineteenth century presented in at least two of the texts studied on the module? Your essay should offer some historically informed analysis of what were the social norms you choose to discuss, and should suggest how they are held up to scrutiny through close reading of particular passages from your chosen texts.
TEXTS: Little Women (Louisa May Alcott), The Purple Jar (Maria Edgeworth) and The Railroad Children (Charlotte Younge)
Victorian children’s literature such as Mary Edgeworth’s The Purple Jar[footnoteRef:1], Louisa Alcott’s Little Women[footnoteRef:2] and Charlotte Younge’s The Railroad Children[footnoteRef:3] demonstrate the relationship between children and social norms of the nineteenth-century, almost rendering the connection as non-existent. Social norms can entail mothers teaching their daughters to prepare for their future as domesticated housewives where living under a patriarchal hierarchy is a necessity for conforming to society’s expectations, however, characters like Jo March refute this belief. Interestingly, it is not only the children who have issues with the social norms but adult characters like Marmee, whose anger denotes to the repression she feels because of patriarchy. Yet religion, arguably, could be recognised as a norm that helps individuals feel connected to society but Younge’s novel depicts the lack of religious beliefs ending in misfortune, albeit religion brings them closer. [1: Maria Edgeworth, ‘The Purple Jar’, Early Lessons: In Two Volumes, (Chicago; Johnson Publishing Company, 1815)] [2: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women & Good Wives, (Hertfordshire; Wordsworth Classics, 1993)] [3: Charlotte M Younge, ‘The Railroad Children, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)]
The mother-daughter paradigm within Edgeworth’s The Purple Jar exemplifies the social norm of a maternal predisposition as the mother is the primary caregiver who educates her daughter. Megan Norcia notes that “Edgeworth [...] wrote tales that emphasized the [...] transgressive notion that it was important to teach girls to think rationally”[footnoteRef:4], characterising the moral education of Rosamond to be a “science of rearing the young.”[footnoteRef:5] Certainly, Rosamond moulds into the social norm of being refined into a domesticated female from the onset of her childhood by choosing an item worth of practicality over a temporary desirable object. Because Rosamond has not grasped the consumer skills her mother is teaching her, this allows Edgeworth to train younger girls to become somewhat good ‘hostesses’ in the future. Shirley Foster and Judy Simons posit that “becoming a little woman is a learned and often fraught process”[footnoteRef:6] which can be seen through Rosamond’s continuous lack of understanding, identified towards the end of the novella where she states, “I am sure no, not quite sure, but I hope, I shall be wiser another time”[footnoteRef:7], denoting...