The Victorians in many ways were just like us: they enjoyed a good scandal whenever it was reported in the press, they liked both trashy and high-brow entertainment, and like today, they had their popular heroes adored by both adults and children. Let me introduce you to the Harry Potter of the late-Victorian era: Mr Jack Harkaway.
According to an ancient custom in India, widows would voluntarily mount their dead husbands’ funeral pyres and be burned alive. The British put a stop to this practice in 1829.
“I will warn him that he will not find my robbers such romantic, generous characters as those who occasionally figure in the fields of fiction. He will meet with men strangers to that virtue of robbing the rich to give to the poor. They give to the poor indeed, but it is as spies and instruments of their own crimes, or at least in order to avoid detection.” –Charles Macfarlane, 1833.
During the late-Victorian and Edwardian period many children’s books telling the story of Robin Hood were published, such as John B. Marsh’s Robin Hood (1865), Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (1912), and Paul Creswick’s Robin Hood and his Adventures (1917). Stephanie Barczewski argues that Robin Hood in late Victorian children’s books is an anti-imperialist figure, and she bases this assertion largely upon the fact that Robin Hood children’s books are critical of Richard I’s foreign adventures. Yet the situation was more nuanced than that: many of the late Victorian Robin Hood children’s works that were published in the period projected Robin Hood and his fellow outlaws as men who lived up to the Public School Ethos, cultivating the virtues of athleticism, fair play, chivalry, and devotion to duty. Indeed, Edward Gilliatt’s novel In Lincoln Green (1898) is even set in a very ‘Victorianised’ medieval public school. Thus these works represented the ideal qualities that young men would need if they were to serve the country, and thus, as the proposed paper argues, were subtly imperialist.
The writers of biographical and fictional works in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries sought to instil these values into young people’s minds. These were the values of what is known as the public school ethos. This post shall examine the ways in which the values of the public school ethos were imparted to readers within such literature.