Orphan texts

Victorian orphans, culture and empire

Author: Laura Peters

This book argues that Victorian culture perceived the orphan as a scapegoat - a promise and a threat, a poison and a cure. It first establishes a discursive context in which to read the orphan figure as embodying a difference within the family. To do so, it describes the figure of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights against a number of discourses - namely, those of the foundling, the orphan as foreigner, and the orphan as criminal. The book then looks at the role of the orphan and popular orphan adventure narratives in policing and extending empire. It considers Charles Dickens's 'The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, and Their Treasure in Women, Children, Silver and Jewels' within the context of both the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and Dickens's own imperial sympathies. The book also offers the historical context for the schemes adopted at the time for emigrating orphans. It focuses on the three main destinations -Bermuda, New South Wales and Canada - in order to consider the motivations behind the emigrating of orphans and the contemporary evaluations of it. In this historical context, the book positions Rose Macaulay's Orphan Island (1924), which in its Utopian framework poses problems for the both the rationale of the schemes and for current debates within post-colonial studies. It further looks at the exiling of difference, in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and the return of the exiled orphan from the colonies to the heart of empire, London, in Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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