The experiences of children growing up in Britain during Victorian times are often misunderstood to be either idyllic or wretched. Yet, the reality was more wide-ranging than most imagine. Here, in colorful detail and with firsthand accounts, Frost paints a complete picture of Victorian childhood that illustrates both the difficulties and pleasures of growing up during this period. Differences of class, gender, region, and time varied the lives of children tremendously. Boys had more freedom than girls, while poor children had less schooling and longer working lives than their better-off peers. Yet some experiences were common to almost all children, including parental oversight, physical development, and age-based transitions. This compelling work concentrates on marking out the strands of life that both separated and united children throughout the Victorian period.
Most historians of Victorian children have concentrated on one class or gender or region, or have centered on arguments about how much better off children were by 1900 than 1830. Though this work touches on these themes, it covers all children and focuses on the experience of childhood rather than arguments about it. Many people hold myths about Victorian families. The happy myth is that childhood was simpler and happier in the past, and that families took care of each other and supported each other far more than in contemporary times. In contrast, the unhappy myth insists that childhood in the past was brutal—full of indifferent parents, high child mortality, and severe discipline at home and school. Both myths had elements of truth, but the reality was both more complex and more interesting. Here, the author uses memoirs and other writings of Victorian children themselves to challenge and refine those myths.