The Water Babies

Subtitled, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby and written for Kingsley’s son Grenville, The Water-Babies was an exceptionally popular fantasy serialized in Macmillan’s Magazine 1862-3 then published in 1863 with Noel Paton’s illustrations. It is the story of Tom, a young boy who is a chimney sweep employed by the brutal bully Mr Grimes. Falling down a chimney, Tom finds himself in the presence of a girl called Ellie. Her cleanliness and neatness makes Tom aware for the first time of his own dirty blackened body. He is chased out of Ellie’s house and falls into the river where he enters a magical underwater world and becomes a water-baby. Like Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or White’s The Sword in the Stone, this tale explores the possibilities of an alternative world following certain transformations. Here we meet the caddis fly, the salmon and other creatures that teach Tom morality. This is in the didactic vein of many nineteenth century texts for children, but these days some of the sentiments of the story (particularly those which suggest the moral education of the poor) may seem patronising. Most readers, however, will be carried away by the fantasy and its sense of hope and possibility in life just as Queen Victoria was (she read it to her children and appointed the author canon of Westminster). The famous characters of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid appear in the story, and Kingsley portrays the water world in consistently vivid and exciting manner. The serious issues of whether enforced child-labour is immoral and of how the poor should be treated are major themes in this landmark children’s tale.

Table of contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8

  By PanEris using Melati.

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