Avery, Gillian (with the assistance of Angela Bull).
Century Children: Heroes and Heroines in English Children’s Stories 1780-1900
(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965).
Though Kingsley in real life did not like the punishing of children,
believing that misbehavior often has a physical cause and that punishment
can undermine a child’s relationship with his parents, punishment is a
major theme in The Water-Babies. Avery declares that Kingsley
wishes to point the moral that punishment is the natural consequence of
sin. She also states that education is the primary purpose of The
Water-Babies, “the education of the child to become the honest English
gentleman that was Kingsley’s ideal” (49). Holding that education
and teaching are quite distinct, Kingsley depicts Tom’s trials and subsequent
learning and the final attainment of grace as constituting his true education.
Carpenter, Humphrey. “Parson
Lot Takes a Cold Bath: Charles Kingsley and The Water-Babies,” in
his Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985): 23-43.
In this chapter Carpenter provides an overview of Kingsley’s life and
works. He suggests that Kingsley’s overt heterosexuality may not
have been so real as he indicates in his letters to his wife. He
praises The Water-Babies for its innovation and readability but
considers that it is also greatly muddled by its multitudinous social and
political commentaries. Quite different from anything else in the
history of children’s literature, declares Carpenter, “it was both brilliant
and a failure, self-contradictory, muddled, inspiring, sentimental, powerfully
argumentative, irrationally prejudiced, superbly readable” (24).
Charques, R. D., Mrs. “Kingsley as Children’s
Writer,” Times Literary Supplement Vol. 2576 (15 June, 1951): i
In this short article, Charques discusses Kingsley's writings for children
as well as his attitudes towards and his understanding of children.
She also touches briefly on his educational views.
Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children’s Books in
England: Five Centuries of Social Life. 3rd ed. (London: British Library,
Darton considers that The Water-Babies and other of Kingsley’s
writings were flawed because of the author’s tendency to preach and to
aim at a moral purpose. However, he also praises Kingsley’s fine
imagination and pure simplicity.
Leavis, Q. D. “The Water Babies,” Children's
Literature in Education Vol. 23 (Winter 1976): 155-163.
Leavis regrets that the “excitingly written and splendidly imaginative
Victorian classic” The Water-Babies is no longer read by children
(155). She argues that its literary merits justify that it be kept
in circulation and suggests various ways it might be used in modern children’s
education. “The combination of drama, saga, nonsense, science, magic,
poetry and comedy Kingsley invented is irresistible and became a mode adopted
by writers for children in the later 19th and the 20th centuries with great
Makman, Lisa Hermine. “Child’s Work is Child’s Play:
The Value of George MacDonald’s Diamond,” Children’s Literature Association
Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3 (Fall 1999): 119-129.
Makman discusses Kingsley's treatment of the child in The Water-Babies,
well as that of Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,
her examination of MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind.
While the latter work, she declares, presents the child as the new toy-child,
depicting, after the cessation of child-labor, the gradual development
of the notion that children are essentially toys, Kingsley's novel has
a different orientation. "But while Kingsley emphasizes the mysterious
nature of the play-world and its inhabitants, MacDonald focuses more on
the mysterious nature of the child who can enter that world" (122).
Muller, Charles H. “The Water Babies:
Moral Lessons for Children.” UNISA English Studies Vol. 24, No.
1 (1986): 12-17.
Muller discusses the numerous biblical and moral lessons in The
Water-Babies and the work’s patent allegorical and didactic significance.
However, he stresses that the fable’s major aim is to assert God’s abiding
love and the ever presence of divine providence.
Prickett, Stephen. “Adults in Allegory Land:
Kingsley and MacDonald,” in his Victorian Fantasy (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1979): 150-197.
Prickett provides a lengthy examination of The Water-Babies comparing
and contrasting it with several allegorical fantasies of George MacDonald.
Among other topics, he discusses the extent to which Kingsley was influenced
by Wordsworth regarding his view of nature and his attitude to childhood,
as well as by Rabelais. He also examines Platonism, religion, evolution,
and the nature of allegory in The Water-Babies. Prickett declares
that Kingsley and MacDonald have quite distinct mental sets. “Kingsley,
the botanist, marine biologist and historian is fascinated by every minute
detail of this world; ‘other’ worlds are constructs – telling us yet more
about this. MacDonald is a temperamental Platonist, only interested
in the surface of this world for the news it gives him of another, hidden
reality, perceived, as it were, through a glass darkly” (193).
Rapple, Brendan A. "Charles Kingsley," in Dictionary
of Literary Biography, Volume 163: British Children's Writers, 1800-1880.
Edited by Meena Khorana (Detroit: Gale 1996): 136-147.
Following the usual format of the DLB, a bibliography of Kingsley’s
own works is followed by an account of his life interspersed with an analysis
of his writings, in this case his works for children. A short secondary
bibliography is appended. Several illustrations are also provided.
Rapple’s assessment: “Tastes change, and it is not surprising that modern
children eschew works intended for their Victorian ancestors. The
Heroes has been supplanted by other retellings of the Greek tales;
the science of Glaucus and Madam How and Lady Why no longer
has appeal, and today's youth would reject the books’ pervasive social
commentary, sermonizing, and didacticism. Nor is Westward Ho!
read much by present-day youngsters, though it is still available in a
children's edition. The significant exception has been the consistently
high readership, especially in the United Kingdom, for The Water-Babies,
of which there are probably more editions, adaptations, and abridgements
in print today than in Kingsley's own time. The work’s simplicity,
brilliant fantasy, and affection for the young, despite its frequent preaching,
still capture the devotion of children. It is The Water-Babies,
though its author would never have foretold it, that will ensure Kingsley
a high rank in the history of children's literature” (146).
Ho!; Heroes, The; The
Water-Babies; Hereward the Wake;
How and Lady Why.
Rapple, Brendan A. “The Educational Thought of
Charles Kingsley (1819-75),” Historical Studies in Education Vol.
9, No. 1 (Spring 1997): 46-64.
Rapple writes that though Kingsley’s educational works were not as
considerable as those of such contemporaries as Kay-Shuttleworth, Matthew
Arnold, Spencer, or Huxley, they were still significant. However,
they have generally received scant scholarly attention, with the exception
of his muscular Christianity activities. Contending that Kingsley
the educationist requires a more complete treatment, Rapple, “as a vanguard
to the needed account,” examines Kingsley’s “attitude to the young, his
staunch belief that the State should be deeply implicated in the provision
of education, the relation between Kingsley's 'Muscular Christianity' and
his views on education, his fervent conviction that science should figure
more noticeably in the curriculum, his belief that hygiene and sanitary
knowledge should be universally taught, and his advocacy of female education
at all levels” (47).
Socialism; Muscular Christianity;
Stevenson, Deborah. “Sentiment and Significance:
Impossibility of Recovery in the Children's Literature Canon or, The Drowning
of The Water Babies,” The Lion and the Unicorn Vol. 21, No.
1 (1997): 112-130.
Stevenson attempts to define the nature of the canon in children’s
literature and posits two distinct canons. The most important one
is the canon of sentiment, i.e. the popular canon. On the other hand,
there is the academic canon of significance which may rediscover an older
work of children’s literature for academic purposes but which will not
give it back its place in the canon of sentiment. The Water-Babies,
Stevenson argues, certainly resides in the canon of significance but has
less and less place in the popular canon of sentiment. “Within The
Water-Babies, Tom found redemption and new life, but he must content
himself with that internal promise; no matter what efforts scholars may
make to rescue it, the book itself is sliding irrevocably below the waves"
Townsend, John Rowe. Written for Children:
An Outline of English-language Children's Literature (New York: Lippincott,
1983; first published 1965): 94-100.
Townsend discusses Kingsley as a writer of children’s literature, paying
particular attention to The Water-Babies. This work, especially
the earlier chapters, though powerful was imperfect mainly due to its plentiful
“dross”. Townsend considers this “marred masterpiece” (100) one of the
uncommon instances of children’s books when an edited version is preferable
to the original.
Wallace, Jo-Ann “De-Scribing The Water-Babies:
‘The Child’ in Post-Colonial Theory,” in Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson (eds.)
Empire: Post-colonialism and Textuality (London and New York: Routledge,
Wallace argues that whereas the child in The Water-Babies is
the center of educational, social reform and imperialist debate, he is
depoliticized in the 1984 abridged Puffin Classics edition and repoliticized
in Jamaica Kincaid’s 1983 short story ‘Wingless’. The Puffin edition,
mirroring post-colonialist guilt, “is paradigmatic of ‘the West’s’ continuing
and contradictory investment in a vision of childhood as a universal
unmarked by class, place, or history”. However, ‘Wingless’, “disallows
such a disavowal of historical and geographical specificity by returning
both the text of The Water-Babies and the child reader to colonialist