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Eternal Innocence: The Victorian Cult of the Dead Child

Gryctko, Mary (2020) Eternal Innocence: The Victorian Cult of the Dead Child. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that Victorian subjects’ increased idealization of childhood as a distinct phase of life marked by freedom, helplessness, innocence, and unproductiveness relied upon the figure of the dead child. Working through literary texts, in conjunction with cultural and social histories of childhood and of death, I argue that excessive mourning for dead children in the Victorian era functioned not only as an expression of sorrow for the loss of a particular child but also as a celebration and confirmation of the figure of “the child” as a distinct category of humanity, and bearer of human value. Child death worked alongside eugenicist politics to establish and preserve an image of the ideal child as white, “innocent,” and in need of protection. My chapters examine the figure of the ideal Victorian dead child in both fiction and memoir, while also drawing attention to the many dead children whose childhoods and deaths are erased because they do not fit this ideal. This focus on the dead child helped to cement the image of the child as defined by innocence and unproductiveness that began in the Victorian era, and this image of the child excluded most Victorian children. These nineteenth-century depictions of child death still shape who is recognizable as a dead child for contemporary audiences.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Gryctko, Marymgg19@pitt.edumgg190000-0001-6030-7133
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBickford,
Committee MemberGill-Peterson, Julesjgp17@pitt.edujgp17
Committee MemberBoone,
Committee MemberKincaid,
Committee MemberCrain,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 25 May 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 22 May 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 200
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: childhood, death, Victorian literature, gender and sexuality, suicide, sex work, Charles Dickens, J M Barrie, comfort books
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 13:54
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2020 13:54


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