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We Are Not All Eugene O'Neil

I had had a piece about Marlowe's boyhood kicking me in the head for about a year. I like to write kid-fic, (as well as Kyd fic, and possibly eventually Kyd-kid fic!) Children think in clear little voices, they really SEE, and they say what they see, if only to themselves. Giving a child's voice to a person helps me know them as older people.

So I started on it, and Kit ended up having a fairly happy boyhood. He loves his parents, and his sisters. His sister, nearest to him in age is recovering from some nasty respiratory illness. (She may have a weakened heart after an infection, like Beth March.) I made up the illness, but the girls are real. They came in that order, and that distance from him. He was their big brother, who eventually went away to school.

In real life, the sisters all outlived him.

Does anyone remember being taught nonsense about history? Back in the 1970s there were books that assured us that people long ago did not love their children, as we do now. (!!!) So when children  died, it didn't really hurt. (!!!) This is about like saying dogs feel no pain because they don't tell us about it in English.

I think what they meant to say is that the idea of childhood as a chocolate box ideal had not happened yet. That came on with the enlightenment, and really got silly under the late Victorians. They felt guilty, I expect about poor kids working in mines and up chimneys, so they expected the kids of the middle and fortunate class to waft around in loose clothing, picking flowers all day.

Nobody in Kit's day expected kids to be happy all day, They were supposed to work, and learn, according to their station, But childhood did exist. Children were not adults. They were acknowledged as smaller, weaker, people, who needed help to reach things, and did not know very much yet. Adults were supposed to teach them stuff. I guess in the end I believe that too. (Except for the station part.)

And then there was the idea that artists and writers must have had a miserable past. Some did. But not all. I expect he was a difficult boy in some ways. He was sharply observant, I am sure, and that can be uncomfortable in a child. I am guessing that Kit kept a lot to himself. Kids do, often. They struggle alone to reconcile adult behavior with adult morals.

But there is no reason to think Kit was particularly unhappy. He does not have to be Eugene O' Neil.

What do you all think?


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC)
I think people of that time may have tried not to 'invest' too much of their feelings in their children; life was more precarious then with no vaccinations, poor sanitation and little or no idea of how sickness spread. Through pregnancy,birth and infancy, life was much more 'chancy'.
Jul. 31st, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC)
well said.
I think the other source of this misinterpretation was the practise of 'farming out' their children - even the most high born could be sent to another household. a classic case is the childhood of Catherine Howard (Anne Boleyn's cousin and Henry VIIIth's 4th wife) she was sent to her grandmother's household for much of her childhood. The other factor is the use of the wetnurse - again often sending the child to another household to be breastfed. It wasn't that they didn't love their children - it was the way at the time. It wasn't until the late 19th century that childhood as we know it was 'invented' as the middle classes enjoyed better living conditions and leisure became something to be aspired to. As the economic security increased, children no longer had to work as young and legislation appeared for compulsory schooling. All of which kept the child in the family - unless they went to boarding school. And that is another can of beans
Jul. 31st, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
Yes. Kit was fortunate. He lived at home, and did not get sent away until he was quite old-- probably sixteen or seventeen. Off to Cambridge then, and lived with boys his own age in a dorm room.

So, a surprisingly modern experience. His father was a cobbler. He worked hard, apparently, but he was a free man of the city. He was upwardly mobile.
Aug. 1st, 2013 11:31 am (UTC)
I think we've been taught a load of crap as 'fact' down the years. The more I found out the more I have to reassess old things lodged in my brain. (The female blacksmiths at the time of Agincourt!)

I've just discovered a wonderful programme with my beloved Michael Wood, called The Great British Story. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_British_Story:_A_People%27s_History_(TV_series) Wonderful insights into real historical life.
Aug. 1st, 2013 11:47 am (UTC)
Oh, I do like Michael Wood.
Aug. 1st, 2013 11:52 am (UTC)
Famously described as the "thinking woman's crumpet". :)
Aug. 1st, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
Misread that as 'culprit.' He can be my culprit anytime.
Aug. 1st, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
I think you don't know what you don't have until you know it exists, and when you're a kid there's a lot you don't know exists (or that won't exist yet). Most kids can forego a lot of toys and shiny things if their families show them they like and love them and spend some time doing stuff with them. Maybe the past just looks unhappy for children to a modern sensibility because they didn't coddle theirs for 30 years and treat them like unique snowflakes who got to have an equal say in the household all the time. ;-)
Aug. 1st, 2013 10:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have to agree. It's very easy to envisage the past as being unrelentingly grim (can't help thinking of the peasants' scene in Python's The Holy Grail.) But I think humanity has a capacity for happiness to some extent, always has done and always will. People always manage to find tiny chinks and spaces for love and happiness. And children have always been children, long before childhood was invented.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )