From Alice to Algernon

The Evolution of Child Consciousness in the Novel

  • Author(s): Blackford, Holly
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2018-07-31
  • Status: Active
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“Holly Blackford’s From Alice to Algernon makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of the modern novel. It smartly and effectively situates interdisciplinary children’s studies at the center of that understanding, drawing connections between the trends in intellectual history to theorize human nature and the evolutionary paradigm that has permeated and driven those trends.” —Karen Coats, professor of English, Illinois State University


During the late Victorian period, Charles Darwin’s theories took the world by storm, and the impact of evolution on research into the developing human mind was impossible to overlook. Thereafter the study of children and childhood became a means to theorize, imagine, and apply the concept of evolution in a broad range of cultural productions. Beginning with the watershed Victorian era, From Alice to Algernon: The Evolution of Child Consciousness in the Novel examines the creative transformation these theories underwent as they filtered through the modern novel, especially those that examined the mind of the child.

By examining the connection between authors and trends in child psychology, author Holly Blackford explains why many modern novels began to focus on child cognition as a site for intellectual and artistic exploration. In each chapter of this book, select novels of the late-nineteenth or twentieth century are paired with a specific moment or movement from the history of developmental psychology. Novels such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, or Radclyffe Hall’s less-canonical The Well of Loneliness and even Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, showcase major questions about human epistemology through their child characters. From Lewis Carroll’s Alice and her looking-glass to Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas and the murder of Mary Dalton to the chaotic Neverland—symbolizing the unmappable child’s brain—a literary tradition of child consciousness has emerged as an experimental site for the unstable concepts of evolution, civilization, and development.

​By situating literature about children within concurrent psychological discourses, Blackford demonstrates how the modern novel contributed to the world’s understanding of the boundless wonders and discernible limits of child consciousness.

HOLLY BLACKFORD is a professor of English at Rutgers University, Camden. She is the author of Out of this World: Why Literature Matters to Girls; Mockingbird Passing: Closeted Traditions and Sexual Curiosities in Harper Lee’s Novel; The Myth of Persephone in Girls’ Fantasy Literature; and editor of 100 Years of Anne with an ‘e’: The Centennial Study of Anne of Green Gables and Something Complete and Great: The Centennial Study of My Ántonia.