Book Cover

Haphazard Families

Romanticism, Nation, and the Prehistory of Modern Adoption

Eric C. Walker

246 pp. 6 x 9
5 illusrations
Pub Date: April, 2024

Subjects: Literary Studies, 19th-Century
Literary Studies, British & Irish
Cultural Studies

Series: Formations: Adoption, Kinship, and Culture

Order Hardcover $99.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1566-1
Order Paperback $36.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5908-5
Order PDF ebook$36.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8345-5

Read an interview with Eric C. Walker in Adoption & Culture

“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



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