Daddy Darwin's Dovecot
Juliana Horatio Ewing
London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1884(?), 52p
Sometimes, I find that my love of nostalgia conflicts with my liberal views. I idealise the nineteenth century, dreaming of the changes taking place with regards to families, industry and women. Also, I have romanticised the simpler times, when technology did not intercept relationships and modesty was the norm.
Daddy Darwin's Dovecot brought out that conflict. Ewing's novel is about a young workhouse boy adopted by a lonely old man, who owns a vast dovecot. The young boy is hard-working and moral, reminding his elderly master what it is to love. It is a Christian publication, written to promote religious values. Through his dedication, Jack March becomes deserving, and it all ends happily ever after.
It is a sweet book, idealising childhood through Christian rose-tinted glasses. I love the illustrations, and the fact you can feel the imprint of the words on the page, where the engraved tiles have been pressed down. A colleague let me look at her copy, and I adore the texture of this little book.
However, I cannot escape the way in which the hardships of life are brushed over. Jack March is incredibly lucky to be able to escape the workhouse - few children would have had such an opportunity. In addition, there are ignorant misogynist references to the weaker sex, which made me cringe, despite the age of the text. After all, it is written by a woman!
I was startled by how complex some of the language is. I find it hard to believe a young child would have been able to read this independently - perhaps it was created for families to read together. But, with my contemporary awareness of the difficulties some students have with reading, either due to limited language range or dyslexia, I can imagine some children felt abandoned when trying to learn.
Today, we still have a number of moralistic or religious tales out there, but they are far more subtle. With such a short book, everything becomes very simple, and Jack is a caricature of morality. And although it is a rather old book, things were changing by 1884, and I can imagine many liberal readers became far more angry than I find myself.