The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby

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Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be. Remember" Tom embarks upon all sorts of adventures underwater, but despite the water babies' fun and games, the lesson for naughty boys and foul men remains as stern as any traditional evangelical writer would have penned: Tom travels to the Other-End-of-Nowhere to forgive Grimes who is stuck in Chimney no.

And in his mouth was a pipe; but it was not alight; though he was pulling at it with all his might" In order to get to the beautiful place, Tom must forgive and rescue someone whom he hates, Mr. Indeed, despite the fantastical addition of the living truncheons who guard Grimes' chimney, the reference here to Christian goodwill and forgiveness can hardly be missed.

Furthermore, Kingsley refers to cleanliness and dirtiness constantly, both in terms of physical hygiene and spiritual health.


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Tom feverishly wishes to clean himself so that he may enter the church, "I must be quick and wash myself; the bells are ringing quite loud now; and they will stop soon, and then the door will be shut, and I shall never be able to get in at all" Thus despite Kingsley's frequent reminders to his audience that they are, after all, reading a fairy tale, the narrator's numerous asides closely resemble lessons albeit gently administered.

For instance, while Kingsley notes that "There must be fairies; for this is a fairy tale: and how can one have a fairy tale if there are no fairies? Some people say that boys cannot help it; that it is nature, and only a proof that we are all originally descended from beasts of prey. But whether it is nature or not, little boys can help it, and must help it.

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For if they have naughty, low, mischievous tricks in their nature, as monkeys have, that is no reason why they should give way to those tricks like monkeys who know no better. This blend of the fantastic and reality, the call to suspend logic and believe in fairies and water babies while affirming that no matter how young, children are not mindless monkeys and must be responsible for their behavior continues throughout Kingsley's work and aptly demonstrates the manner in which fantasy merges moral lessons and pure imagination.

In fact, Kingsley, a fervent preacher, laid out his aims for The Water Babies in a letter to his friend and 'master' F.

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Maurice , writing:. I have tried, in all sorts of queer ways, to make children and grown folks understand that there is a quite miraculous and divine element underlying all physical nature, and nobody knows anything about anything, in the sense in which they may know God in Christ, and right and wrong. And if I have wrapped up my parable in seeming Tomfooleries, it is because so only could I get the pill swallowed by a generation who are not believing with anything like their whole heart, in the living God.


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Here, then, is a new kind of moral tale, one wrapped 'in seeming Tomfooleries. After all, Tom's brushes with greedy otters and Tomtoddies are entertaining in their own right. Finally, Kingsley attaches a Moral to the end of his tale again, in good fairytale tradition. Here, his moral ends:. Meanwhile, do you learn your lessons, and thank God that you have plenty of cold water to wash in; and wash in it too, like a true Englishman. And then, if my story is not true, something better is; and if I am not quite right, still you will be, as long as you stick to hard work and cold water.

But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence; and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true. Kingsley's flippant ending contrasts with the real-life political consequences of his tale. The Water Babies is often credited as the catalyst for the passing of the Chimney Sweeper's Act of which outlawed the use of climbing boys.

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In fact, Kingsley's ironic reminder to his audience that they are not to believe any of his tale, "even if it is true" must have been readily recognized by his audience for throughout the nineteenth century, children remained employed in often horrendous conditions whether in factories, as chimney sweeps or other low skill, cheap forms of labor. Perhaps the most fantastical element of Kingsley's fairy tale, written at the height of the Industrial Revolution in England, is its portrayal of the happily employed water babies who clean rock-pools and plant cockles, whelks, razor-shells, sea-cucumbers and golden-combs to "make a pretty live garden" to wipe man's dirt away.

"Young and Old, from The Water Babies" by Charles Kingsley (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Kingsley appears to address parents as well as children in his lessons. What aspects of Victorian parenting does he appear to criticize? How does he think children and adults should interact? How do Kingsley's descriptions of childhood death resemble earlier child deaths told by evangelical tract writers such as Reverend W. Carus Wilson? Also, contrast Ellie and Tom's deaths.

Stonehouse, with Miniatures on Ivory by Miss Currie. He painted various English and French aristocrats and many members of the British Royal family, and much of his work can still be seen in Windsor Castle. The earliest designs were in fact the work of Miss C. Currie whose services were employed by the bookselling firm of Henry Sotheran, the manager of which was J. Harrison Stonehouse.

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Her paintings were almost always on ivory. Often one large painting was set into the cover; occasionally multiple graced the front cover. Over the years, numerous attempts have been made to reproduce the Cosway bindings. These Cosway-style bindings, however, lack the quality of the early pieces and collectors should be wary of the less expensive designs.

The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, by Charles Kingsley

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is…. The water-babies: A fairy tale for a land-baby.


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Charles Kingsley Posted on September 4, by Lee. This entry was posted in Book of the Month.