le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Little by Little (spoilers)

Tonight's completed book is Rev Farrar's rather ghastly Eric; or, Little by Little. This one is published in 1858, and it's a school story of a very different vein: Eric Williams, our protagonist, "little by little" sinks into moral turpitude (drinking! smoking! swearing! stealing! leading little boys astray!). Eric starts off a cheery, honorable, bright boy but eventually, peer pressure and his desire to be popular leads him down the primrose path.

Three boys die in this book, Eric last of them. He's killed his mother with grief after he runs away from school (suspected of theft) and joins a ship full of even more morally depraved folks than himself, and he expires on the lawn, finally seeing that he has a Father in Heaven looking after him.

This book is just another in an evidently unending stream of books about children and teenagers dying.

One of the things I'm puzzling over is: what is this book, exactly? Is it a condemnation of the perils of the public schools? Eric is at Roslyn, which i think is a fictional school. There is no regulation amongst the boys, by the boys (which we see in Tom Brown and The Hill, and elsewhere); the whole school seems to be a den of iniquity (which begs the question: why would anyone send their child there? what's wrong with the masters and Head that they don't see these things happening, and don't intervene?)

The other, more intriguing puzzle, is that Eric is a kind of "india-orphan." He's sent from India at age 4, to live with an aunt, while his parents remain in India. Later, he's joined by his parents and younger brother for one year, at the end of which the parents both return to India. Is there a critique of absentee parents here? I can't help thinking that there is....the weird anti-colonial strand that runs through British children's texts seems to have a hold here, as well as in more obvious texts (The Secret Garden, Kipling). The Imperial enterprise has stolen this boy's parents from him (and ultimately, both Eric and his brother die), leaving the colonizing parents childless.

Hrm. I just recalled some professor's proclamation that: There is no future in Empire, but I cannot remember who said it, or in what context......possibly in discussing the sickly yellowish children of English Empire-builders???

I'm not overwhelmingly interested in the Empire as an area of study; it's interesting, and I like a lot of imperial-related texts, and the project of the Empire touches every aspect of British life, but it simply isn't central to my thinking and my interests. That said, Eric; or Little by Little, seems most useful in this context.

(I also have a vague memory of a Nesbit child character scorning to read the book when given it by an elderly aunt).

No comments: