An Edwardian Childhood

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jane Pettigrew’s delightful book, AN EDWARDIAN CHILDHOOD, encapsulates childhood in the brief era that began with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and lasted until 1914 when Britain entered World War I. Her chapters include such subjects as “An Ordinary Day,” “In the Schoolroom,” and “Pleasures and Pastimes,” and the author further punctuates her narrative with the recollections of adults who were children at that time.

AN EDWARDIAN CHILDHOOD paints a very rosy picture of a childhood filled with toys and treats, family outings, and loving and attentive nannies, complemented by a wealth of illustrative material. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of children at that time enjoyed the idyllic childhood that is so colorfully portrayed in the book. The author herself notes in an introduction that “of a population in 1900 of thirty-seven million, twenty-seven million were working class.” Although reforms were being implemented during the latter part of the Edwardian period, they would not work their benefits for years to come.

Thus, Pettigrew falls prey to the extravagance of the era she describes by dwelling on the experiences of the wealthy minority, who definitely enjoyed more of the pleasures of childhood. Nevertheless, AN EDWARDIAN CHILDHOOD succeeds in capturing a look at a society in transition, a time when childhood was only beginning to be recognized as the wondrous time it can be.