Escaping institutionality: rebellion and gendered space in Eric, or Little by Little and A Little Princess
By the convention of nineteenth-century school narratives, students are supposed to grow up in the school while their characters are being molded by the standardized educational system. Eric, or Little by Little and A Little Princess both resist the very idea of linear growth that is a trope of the Bildungsroman through endowing their protagonists with the rebelliousness and outsider status of the unruly child. This essay examines how Eric Williams and Sara Crewe, disobedient students who leave their schools after deriving no benefit from the institutional education, illuminate the ways in which institutionality is incorporated with the gendered agendas of nineteenth-century England. Eric and Sara both challenge the authority of the central adult in each tale by exploiting and changing the interior space of the schools; not only the inner structures of each school but also the connection/disconnection between school and home differ in the two stories. My proposition is that in the nineteenth-century school narratives discipline and character-building in the institution are not viewed as inevitable in reaching adulthood for girls, while for boys there is neither exit from the institutionality nor way to recover their lost home and childhood.
Keywords: children’s literature; rebelliousness; institutionality; gender; school space; home space; nineteenth-century school narratives; linear growth; unruliness
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