Avery, Gillian (with the assistance of Angela Bull). Nineteenth 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.

The Water-Babies; Punishment; Children; 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).

Overview; Children; Sexuality; The Water-Babies.

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.

Children; The Water-Babies; Education.

Darton, F. J. Harvey.  Children’s Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life. 3rd ed. (London: British Library, 1999): 252-255.
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.

The Water-Babies; Children; Didacticism.

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 success” (163).

The Water-Babies; Sambourne, Linley; Illustrations; Children; Education.

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, as well as that of Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in 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).

The Water-Babies; MacDonald, George; Children; Carroll, Lewis.

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.

The Water-Babies; Moral Lessons; Children; Religion.

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).

The Water-Babies; MacDonald, George; Rabelais; Wordsworth; Nature; Children; Religion; Plato; Evolution.

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).

Overview; Children; Glaucus; Westward Ho!; Heroes, The; The Water-Babies; Hereward the Wake; Madam 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).

Education; Children; Christian Socialism; Muscular Christianity; Science; Sanitation; Females.

Stevenson, Deborah.  “Sentiment and Significance: The 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" (128).

The Water-Babies; Children.

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.

The Water-Babies; Children.

Wallace, Jo-Ann “De-Scribing The Water-Babies: ‘The Child’ in Post-Colonial Theory,” in Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson (eds.) De-Scribing Empire: Post-colonialism and Textuality (London and New York: Routledge, 1994): 171-184.
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 history” (182).

The Water-Babies; Kincaid, Jamaica; Imperialism; Colonialism; Children.


Return to Top