Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Mary Hatfield's "Growing Up in Nineteenth-Century Ireland"

Mary Hatfield is an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at University College Dublin and was formerly the Irish Government Senior Scholar at Hertford College, University of Oxford.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Growing Up in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: A Cultural History of Middle-Class Childhood and Gender, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Growing up in Ireland: A Cultural History of Middle-Class Childhood and Gender discusses the expanding market for children’s goods in Ireland during the nineteenth century, documenting the expansion of Irish toy shops in the early 1800s. Dublin had 8 toy shops in 1820, Cork had thirteen in 1824, and Belfast had seven in 1863. Even smaller towns like Dundalk, Kinsale, and Strabane each had a resident toy provider in the 1860s.

What kinds of toys were available to Irish children? Well if the 1854 advertisement from the Varian Brothers toy shop in Cork is any indication, children had a variety of toys to choose from, ‘Superb rocking horses, and Good Magic Lanterns, […] Pop-Guns and Pistols, Swords, Drums, French Tambourines, Fifes, Small Violins, Games, Puzzles, Nine Pins, Humming Tops, Farm Yards, Hunts, Parks, Puzzles, Surprise boxes, [and] Kaleidoscopes…’ The bottom of page 99 poses the question ‘How shall we dress the children?’ a section that examines the way moral reformers and didactic writers addressed the idea of children’s appearance as a spiritual and moral concern. Authors warned that ornamental dress encouraged children to focus on exterior appearances instead of interior development, an anxiety which was also expressed about the nature of educational accomplishments.

The Page 99 test works pretty well for my book. It previews an argument which is fleshed out in chapter three about why an increased emphasis on accruing the artefacts of childhood became tied to middle-class identity and respectability. Purchasing the newest toy or children’s book indicated not just an anticipation of the child’s needs but was a symbol of social status. This chapter considers children’s fashion and clothing as evidence of adults’ social expectations for their children, while also depicting the physical world children inhabited during early childhood. The complexity of deciphering the social implications of dress as both material and discursive construction is complicated by children’s traditional representation as passive historical actors, adorned by their parents in the fashions of the day with seemingly little input. Situating clothing within the context of gestures, postures, and other bodily practises constituting a wider habitus of Irish middle-class life is useful in shifting attention from a chronology of aesthetic developments to the function of clothing as part of class and gendered identities.

From children’s point of view, clothing served to distinguish them from their peers and they had definitive preferences as to their favoured pieces of clothing. One of my favourite quotes from this chapter is from Francis Power Cobbe’s autobiography. She recounted that at the age of seven her grandmother gave her a sky-blue silk pelisse, ‘I managed nefariously to tumble down on purpose into a gutter full of melted snow the first day it was put on, so as to be permitted to resume my cloth coat.’ Cobbe’s sly act of rebellion reminds us that children had a role in determining their clothes and were aware of the social importance attributed to their appearance. As the Irish middle-classes expanded during the nineteenth century, the codes of taste and style which informed Irish fashion were an integral part of expressing class and gendered identity. Investing time, money, and effort into children’s clothing was a way of portraying familial status while simultaneously socialising the child into their appropriate class and gender.
Learn more about Growing Up in Nineteenth-Century Ireland at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue