New College of the Humanities

The Erosion Of Childhood; & Manful Assertions

Nicholas Tucker reviews these two new books

Nicholas Tucker | Published in
  • The Erosion Of Childhood: Child Oppression In Britain 1860-1918
    Lionel Rose – Routledge, 1991 - vii+294 pp - £35
  • Manful Assertions: Masculinities In Britain Since 1800
    Edited by Michael Roper and John Tosh – Routledge, 1991 - x+221pp. - £30

The only really original thought in The Erosion of Childhood occurs in its title, since anyone who sees the history of childhood from 1860-1918 as a process of erosion clearly has some explaining to do. But apart from a few digs at the frequently deadening nature of compulsory schooling after 1870, the author always ends up by taking the more orthodox view that by the encl of his period things were better for most children. Reasons cited for this improvement include the growth of legislation protecting the young, the fall in the birth-rate – so leading to more parental attention per child – the decline of extreme religiosity and the general drop in domestic drunkenness. Surviving children could still have a fearful time, and there are passages quoted in these pages that require a strong stomach on the part of the reader. Yet at least compulsory schooling stopped some of the very worst child abuse formerly happening daily in the workplace. Putting children all together in one place also made them far more visible where evidence of malnutrition, disease and cruelty was concerned.

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