Fairies, Fathers and Fantasies of Childhood in London, 1915–1930

Sage, Alice. 2021. Fairies, Fathers and Fantasies of Childhood in London, 1915–1930. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis takes the childhood of one girl, Eileen Brock, as a starting point for a detailed analysis of
children’s public and private performance during and after the First World War. It demonstrates how
fantasy images of childhood incorporated new experiences of mass war, loss, death, and the ideas of
psychoanalysis, bringing Joan W. Scott’s concept of the fantasy echo to bear on generational history
and ideas of repetition and alteration.

Eileen was born to lower-middle-class parents in London in 1915, and soon after, her father was
conscripted. Typically for separated families, the Brocks used letters and photographs to maintain
contact and make sense of their experiences. My focus on fantasy reveals how cultural narratives of
fairytales helped communicate emotional truths – consolation and nostalgia, mixed with hope for
the future. I use postcards sent and received by the Brocks to connect their experience to wider
practices, and to argue that adult fantasies combined with changing conceptions of children’s inner
lives.

From 1925–1926, Eileen belonged to a children’s variety troupe, Madame Behenna’s Juvenile
Jollities. Compared to their Victorian counterparts, interwar performing children are overlooked by
historians, despite their active participation in the entertainment industry. My analysis of the
Jollities’ participants, audiences and venues shows how the First World War had consequences for
performing children, including: an emphasis on philanthropy and fundraising concerts; a definition of
children as school pupils; and the far-reaching effects of new legislation. I uncover widespread,
passionate desires to watch children perform, and show how producers and performers responded
with choreography and costume that shaped fantasies: of littleness, perfection, cleverness and
happiness.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00030378

Keywords:

history; girlhood; childhood; First World War; performance; ballet; family; photography; fantasy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

History

Date:

31 May 2021

Item ID:

30378

Date Deposited:

27 Jul 2021 15:31

Last Modified:

27 Jul 2021 15:32

URI:

https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/30378

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