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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Indifferent adults and insouciant children: Two poles of English fiction

I previously posted on the incredible indifference the English "upper class" show toward their children as depicted in British fiction, sometimes by the absence of children in the accounts s=of supposedly family lives and some by the astonishing ways in which children are just plain disposable, as in Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica - with the colonial parents in Jamaica just putting their 6 (!) kids aboard a ship bound for London and waving good-bye. The counterpart to this indifference on the part of parents is the equally incredible insouciance of the English children. In High Wind, a perfect example, instead of mourning home and missing parents and yearning for some stability, the children enjoy playing on the rigging and in general just seem to recognize that they are movable pieces on a board game that they don't really understand. As noted, the ship they're on is overtaken by Caribbean pirates who steal all the cargo on the ship, including, fittingly, the children. Their parents receive a report on this from the idiotic captain who tells them the pirates captured and killed their children. What on earth is his problem? In any event, we follow the children in captivity. Are they scared, homesick? Not int he least. They land ashore with the pirates and help them auction off the stolen property, and just seem overall as cool and indifferent to their danger as their parents were to them. In chapter 4, the oldest child dies in a fall out of 40-foot high window - and the children just kind of write him off, they don't even wonder what happened to him (they don't see the accident and are never told about it). So how to explain their insouciance?: It's a natural defense against parental uninterest? Or: It's a quality that English children have from the onset that helps them get through their difficult lives and eventually turns them into indifferent adults (in other words, a question of which came first: insouciant children or indifferent adults). Or: Children are not and never were this way at all but it's just a convention of a certain type of fiction, a way in which an author who himself may be entirely indifferent to children thinks that children could or ought to behave? In other words, the cool-ness of English children may be a result of the lack of interest and observation on the part of English writers (male writers?).

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