“Examining important figures through the children they abandoned, adopted, and imagined abandoning and adopting, Walker illuminates the Romantic era by putting de facto adoption at the center of British Romanticism. His insightful analysis of the lives of real and fictional orphans adds an important chapter to the known history of adoption.” —Elisabeth Wesseling, editor of The Child Savage, 1890–2010: From Comics to Games
“Adding an important new chapter to the history of adoption, Haphazard Families shows how the transfer of children from one home to another shaped British culture. Walker’s absorbing case studies illuminate the development of the Romantics’ valorization of children.” —Sarah Raff, author of Jane Austen’s Erotic Advice
There are no provisions for adoption in English common law, and adoption wasn't legally formalized in England and Wales until 1926. But a century earlier, untimely adoptions navigated the new exceptionalism of childhood in Romanticism. In Haphazard Families, Eric C. Walker explores the history of the adopted child in Romantic-era England. Taking up the stories of both fictional and historical adoptees, he demonstrates how these children, diminished to nonpersons, shouldered the burden of social constructs of nation, family, gender, and class. Walker further demonstrates how Rousseau’s infamous failure to follow his own ideals of parenthood shaped British reactions in famous texts such as Frankenstein and Emma. Incorporating perspectives from Romantic scholarship and critical adoption studies and examining the stories of adopted children associated with Queen Caroline, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Jane Austen, the Wordsworth siblings, Mary Shelley, Charles and Mary Lamb, Letitia Landon, and others, Haphazard Families considers how Romantic constructions of childhood supply foundational structures of modern adoptee subjectivity.
Eric C. Walker is Professor Emeritus of English at Florida State University, where he was department chair and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor. He is the author of Marriage, Writing, and Romanticism: Wordsworth and Austen after War, which won the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Book Award.
List of Illustrations
Introduction Thérèse Levasseur’s Lost Children
Chapter 1 The Burden of Romantic Childhood
Chapter 2 National Children: The Madness of William Austin
Chapter 3 Natural Children: Jane Austen and Adoption
Chapter 4 Abandoned Children: Mary Shelley, Rousseau, and Frankenstein
Chapter 5 Unexplained Children: Basil Caroline Montagu and the Wordsworth Circle
Chapter 6 Found Children: Emma Isola and Charles and Mary Lamb
Conclusion Untimely Adoption
Appendix Austen Family Accounts of the Edward Austen Adoption