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date: 26 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay maintains that child-centred art was integral to Anglo-American mass culture in the period from 1880 to 1920 and argues for a redefinition of this ‘cult of the child’. Rather than limiting our focus to English authors and making gender and sexuality the central terms of our analysis, scholars of literature, drama, and film should regard the cult as a trans-generic, transatlantic phenomenon that coincided with the rise of consumer capitalism and registered a wide array of contemporary anxieties, including concerns about class stratification and racial tension. The allure of crowd-pleasing child protagonists such as Little Lord Fauntleroy, the Little Colonel, and Peter Pan derives not from their perfect purity, but from their ability to oscillate between identity categories and, in so doing, help others more ‘set in their ways’ to follow suit and become less committed to the norms and prejudices belonging to their sociocultural position.

Keywords: cult of childhood, capitalism, class, race, liminality, Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Little Colonel, Peter Pan, Shirley Temple

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