A. S. Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’ and J. K. Rowling.
‘Children in these families, at the end of the nineteenth century, were different from children before or after.’ So writes A. S. Byatt in ‘The Children’s Book’, her long 2009 novel spanning the years that saw the 19th century turn, and the Great War begin and end. The children she writes about come from a particular section of the British upper middle class, the Fabians and their friends. ‘Neither dolls nor miniature adults’, these children joined their parents at meals, had their characters considered in the light of new social and psychological ideas, and inhabited their own ‘separate, largely independent, lives as children’. This happy breed roamed free in fields and woodlands, rode ponies and bicycles and developed lasting friendships. And sometimes they had adventures. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it is: it is the stuff of much of children’s fiction, fantastic as well as realist, from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th.
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