Cosmopolitan Childland: Victorian Fantasy and the Cosmopolitan Child
The definition of Cosmopolitan most commonly refers to someone or something that is free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world; belonging to all the world; not limited to just one part of the world. Fantasy is a distinctly Victorian invention that is engaged in expanding and widening the scope of various political, social, and cultural debates. In combining numerous literary traditions Victorians such as Carroll, Kipling, Ingelow, Rossetti and others created a genre that answers to the very heart of cosmopolitanism and by redefining the Romantic image of the child from a character that connotes the rural, local, and national to one that transcends and defies these limitations; rejecting the real and embracing a world beyond our ken. Children like Alice, Mowgli, Jack, and Lizzie are not only at home all over the world, belonging to all the world, not limited to one part of the world, but they are at home in imaginary worlds, to which adults are denied access. My paper extends and broadens our understanding of Victorians' sentimentalization of childhood and seeks to place the long-standing debate over their fascination with the child in a less sexual and more political and cultural framework.
The Victorian child is a cosmopolitan child who is sent out of this world to interact with cultures beyond the reach of adult Victorians. The worlds beyond the world possible to them and not adults. The way the child interacts with these fantastic cultures and what these children brings back to Cosmopolitan England with them, and whether or not this new knowledge is accepted and included in contemporary definitions of the cosmopolitan is what this paper is about. Importantly this view informs our understanding of the author’s stand on the issues of the British as World-Class cosmopolitans and imperialists. The child hold within him the power to change and the change begins with himself. Alice remains the same, but her sister sees the change. Mowgli is a cosmopolitan child that is so consumed by the cultures he absorbed, he rejects his native, but like Kim he returns to it at last. Peter Pan is like Mowgli at one with the multi-cultural world of Neverland, but in London he is but a shadow.
Fantasy itself is a cosmopolitan genre, combining many literary traditions form different times and cultures, but it is in the end, thoroughly Victorian.
Cosmopolitanism may be thought of as the reward of cultural imperialism, but in every single one of these fantasy worlds the child meets the world successfully reject the child like the foreign object that he is. The child takes the new cultural knowledge with him back to England, but it is part of his cosmopolitanism only he can hold. The adults can never obtain it. It is a mockery and a comment on the exceedingly futile search of Victorians to see themselves as worldly. Their children are limitless, but they are not.
Fantasy is cosmopolitan in that it is a collection of genres from different periods. What Bunyan attempted in Pilgrim’s Progress with mild success, the Victorian accomplished. They combined myth, Romance, fairy tales, ghost stories, and travel narratives seamlessly and invented what are often called “impossible worlds.”