English children's annuals: Australia and the 'British embrace'

Pauline Farley

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the powerful, partially-concealed discourse of British imperialism that prevailed in the English children's annual and explores the implications of anglo-centric stories, images and information for Australian readers. This study reveals that imperialist discourse also promoted ideologies about class, gender and race that did not adequately mediate twentieth-century socio-economic developments, presenting evidence that in the generic English children's annual, what might be termed 'the twilight of the British Empire' was perpetuated long after its actual demise.
English children's annuals were replete with material that invariably presented England and its values and attitudes in idealised, positive ways. Employing the term, 'the British embrace', to adopt Stuart Ward's usage, this work interrogates idealism in the English annual. The central argument of this study is that English annuals were a profoundly middle-class literary form, devised originally to instruct and entertain. Publishers of this popular, yet conservative, genre responded to new trends and my first chapter draws upon publishing and social history to locate annuals in the contexts of historical and technological change. Other chapters trace how and to what extent distinctively Australian audiences and settings were addressed and constructed in the annual genre. Through analysis of class, gender and racial otherness, I investigate how annuals purveyed English middle-class dreams and fantasies. A final chapter on Englishness in the genre analyses some of its effects upon twentieth-century Australian readers.
Children's annuals were bestsellers and were exported in great numbers to Australia. Adults purchased them as prizes and gifts, especially at Christmas-time. Many older Australians have nostalgic associations with the annual genre and with individual annuals. Twentieth-century Australians were often connected by familial ties to Britain and, like the English suburban households they emulated, Australian households often had English children's annuals in their libraries. Annuals were considered innocuous texts and were trusted to impart to children knowledge and ideals. Because annuals seldom overtly positioned children as learners they succeeded in this. However, their specific teaching function was problematically ideological.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010


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