Richard Hughes’s fame has rested on just a handful of novels, each one quite different and quite remarkable in itself. A High Wind in Jamaica, originally published as The Innocent Voyage in the United States, was the first of these. It has been claimed, wrongly, that the novel is without ancestors. It is based on an actual event narrated to Hughes by an old woman who had been one of the children, and Joseph Conrad used the same story for his Romance (1903).
The novel can be placed within a tradition of prose fiction that deals thematically with children, or, more precisely, with the interplay of the world of childhood and the adult world. Hughes’s contribution to this has been crucial, marking both the demise of certain Victorian attitudes about children and the emergence of modernist attitudes based on the work of Sigmund Freud and his associates.
The nineteenth century began, at least in children’s literature, by stressing the fallen nature of children and the need for strict discipline to counteract the effects of a child’s natural tendency toward willfulness and rebellion. In adult literature, such a view had not taken a deep root, partly because of a residual Lockean view of childhood as a regrettable stage of life to be completed as quickly as possible; this view was displaced by Romanticism’s celebrations of the innocence of childhood.
As the Victorian novel developed, the notion of the...
(The entire section is 988 words.)
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