Reviews 2016

Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives

Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives. Ed. Stephanie Olsen. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. 274 pages. $90.00 (hardback).

The fabled British stiff upper lip and other such national stereotypes of how emotions are (or are not) expressible and expressed are as much imposed by socio-cultural norms as they are expressions of internal control. Nowadays, in the western, post-Freudian world, there exists a more open approach to, and more open displays of, emotions, and talking about feelings has changed the way we narrate emotions too (Anglophone young adult books, perhaps, being particular vehicles for this changing way in how emotions might be expressed). Yet, the expression of emotions, and the manner of that expression, is not confined to only British girls and boys, and understanding how emotions are expressed, controlled or denied from a global perspective offers a bigger picture.

Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives, born from a 2012 conference, is an article collection from within the field of the history of emotions, published as part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of the Emotions series. The collection covers areas from children’s personal emotional experiences, to adult attempts to control children’s emotions, the adult authority figure, and how children’s emotions have been figured symbolically. More importantly, perhaps, the chapters here are not restricted to Anglo-American considerations as they represent international investigations from Europe to Africa, China to South America, Australia and New Zealand, and India. The discussions also range across historical periods.

Stephanie Olsen’s "Introduction" reaffirms the notion that "children themselves are central to any analysis of childhood experience" (2), a principle not always considered by scholars of children’s and young adult literature post-Jacqueline Rose. Olsen notes how combining the history of childhood with the history of emotions and emotional education might prove fruitful ground for research and new understandings for both fields.

In Chapter Two, "Emotions and the Global Politics of Childhood," Karen Vallgårda, Kristine Alexander, and Stephanie Olsen attempt an overarching theoretical paradigm with which to combine the areas of the global history of childhood and the history of emotions. Although this effort to provide a theoretical underpinning would appear to contradict what Olsen states in her "Introduction" that, "neither the category of childhood nor the emotions associated with it are universal" (2), and whilst one should be wary of theorising that seeks to make the figure of the child (real or fictional) fixed and fixable, the chapters emphasise what is globally shared and what is not. Taking an approach that works from three perspectives —"the concepts of emotional formations, emotional frontiers and the sentimental/innocent child" (12) — this chapter would seem to be the most useful for children’s and young adult literature scholars. In particular, the chapter offers a starting point for those who might be tempted to give deeper consideration to the insufficiently explored topic of how emotions are displayed and controlled by characters in children’s and young adult texts, and how these representations have changed over the years. As an aside, a companion read to recommend would be Ute Frevert et al.’s Learning How to Feel: Children’s Literature and Emotional Socialization, 1870–1970 (2014).

Chapter Three, "Feeling like a Child: Narratives of Development and the Indian Child/Wife," by Ishita Pande, takes up the tradition of child marriages in India during the period of the British Raj and how colonial administrators sought to counter the practice through the imposition of western, British values. The following chapter, Kathleen Vongsathorn’s "Teaching, Learning, and Adapting Emotions in Uganda’s Child Leprosy Settlement, c.1930-62," continues the theme of colonial impositions on childhood and emotions in her discussion of the emotional connections and conflicts between Ugandan child lepers, their families, and the religious impulses of British missionaries. Vongsathorn makes a useful distinction between performing emotions and feeling emotions, a difference that might have wider literary applications. In Chapter Five, Hugh Morrison keeps the religious theme in his discussion of indigenous and settler inhabitants of a small New Zealand parish. "Settler Childhood, Protestant Christianity, and Emotions in Colonial New Zealand, 1880s-1920s" is a consideration of religion as emotion (including positive emotions), not just an ideological imposition, and Morrison also notes the influence of class and other social hierarchies on emotions.

In Chapter Six, "Architecture, Emotions, and the History of Childhood," Roy Kozlovsky takes the discussion to one of children’s spaces—here, post-World War Two—and he picks up the theme of the adult designation of childhood spaces for the purposes of providing emotional (and physical) spaces of, for example, play, and how children reacted to those designated spaces. Jane Hamlett takes up a similar theme in her chapter on "Space and Emotional Experience in Victorian and Edwardian English Public School Dormitories." Hamlett considers how public school dormitory spaces were intended to provide a space that promoted appropriate emotions through self-discipline but were also the site for subversion of those disciplinary strictures. Marcelo Caruso shifts the discussion to South America in Chapter Eight whilst retaining the education focus. In "Emotional Regimes and School Policy in Colombia, 1800-1835," Caruso also considers the role of education as a weapon in adult debates regarding what were necessary and permissible emotions in children in a nation newly independent from Spanish colonial rule that was seeking its own identity.

In Chapter Nine, "Feeling like a Citizen: The American Legion’s Boys State Programme and the Promise of Americanism," Susan A. Miller considers emotional education not through formal schooling, but rather how it was enacted through youth organisations —specifically, here, the American Legion’s State Boy’s Programme and its efforts to instil the right kind of patriotic feelings and values. Chapter Ten shifts the discussion to the other side of the iron curtain with Juliane Brauer’s "Disciplining Young People’s Emotions in the Soviet Occupation Zone and Early German Democratic Republic." Brauer discusses (in what is a clear similarity to what was happening in the USA at the time, as discussed by Miller in the previous chapter) how the emotion of happiness became a duty under a state-controlled system. The next chapter, "Inscribing War Orphans’ Losses into the Language of the Nation in Wartime China, 1937-1945," also considers how state authorities sought to manipulate young people from potential threats to model citizens. M. Colette Plum’s observation of how negative emotions were redirected into nationalist goals of patriotism also mirrors how other nations’ state and social organs sought to manipulate childhood emotions for nationalistic ends.

The final two chapters have less obvious, although still pertinent, connections. Chapter Twelve, Swapna M. Banerjee’s "Everyday Emotional Practices of Fathers and Children in Late Colonial Bengal, India," discusses changing father-child relationships in a colonial India as it moved towards independence, primarily advancing the discussion through children’s later adult recollections of those earlier times, although without acknowledging that adult memories of childhood are less than reliable. Finally, Lydia Murdoch’s chapter, "Anti-vaccination and the Politics of Grief for Children in Late-Victorian England," discusses how children can become political footballs when adult emotions run high, and how Victorian mourning rituals played their part in this process.

Overall, this was a very readable collection even for readers not knowledgeable of the fields covered and, although it is not clear that the collection has the kind of cohesion claimed by Olsen in her "Introduction," it does not suffer from a forced togetherness in the same way that other conference-based essay collections often do. What did not seem to be considered here, though, despite Olsen noting how "[e]motions allow us to access children’s agency and children’s voices in a new way" (3), is the fact that children rarely speak for themselves and, when they do, they often say what they think should be said rather than what they want to say. Many chapters, too, focus on emotions being discussed rather than on how emotions are felt by children in given situations. In addition, the kind of clear-cut distinction between children and teenagers common in children’s and young adult literature studies is often glossed over here. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile essay collection, with each chapter in itself proving interesting without being overwhelming. It is also a collection that might start some useful research thinking for scholars of children’s and young adult literature.

Anthony Pavlik
University of Münster, Germany