chapter  1
30 Pages

Creating Cruelty to Children: Genre, Authority, and the Endangered Child

The duality of the child performer, both playful child and rigorously trained entertainer, has much to do with the binary opposition of the stage itself, whereby the performance one sees is both in direct contrast to, and mutually constituted by, what goes on "behind the scenes". The charming "pantomime fairy", for example, while pretty and cared for on stage, was feared to suffer from exhaustion, abuse, and exploitation when off the stage, what Ellen Barlee refers to as the "curtain's reverse shadow" in her 1884 exposé, Pantomime Waifs. In A Voice from the Factories (1836), Caroline Norton opens her exposé of child labor through an extended depiction of a young acrobat, a "stage-wonder". Norton's use of a child performer as a means of eliciting public concern on behalf of child laborers can also be seen as, in part, a defense of her own genre.