Between Atavism and Altruism: the Child on the Threshold in Victorian Psychology and Edwardian Children’s Fiction



Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet was published in 1906; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden appeared in 1911. Both stories involve stepping between one world and another — a central narrative device in the genre of ‘children’s literature’ which emerged during the latter part of the nineteenth century.1 Both embody two aspects of crossing the threshold between here and ‘elsewhere’: the fantasy of the quest, a move forward to adventure and discovery, and the dream of the retreat to the garden, the primal ‘good place’, the heart of home. In The Story of the Amulet the four children acquire half an ancient Egyptian amulet and embark on a search to unite it with the other half by passing through an arch created by the magical swelling of the charm to enormous size and thus moving into different segments of the past. They explore a series of past civilizations, including pre-dynastic Egypt, Tyre, Atlantis, the Egypt of the Pharaohs, Britain on the eve of Caesar’s conquest, and, on one brief occasion, a Utopian future, in which they meet a little boy, ‘Wells’. In The Secret Garden, Mary, the physically and emotionally stunted child of Anglo-Indian parents, is sent to live at her uncle’s home Misslethwaite Manor on being orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India, and finds physical, emotional and moral regeneration when she discovers and tends a hidden garden.


Nineteenth Century Child Welfare Double Consciousness Adventure Story Slum Child 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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