When William Makepeace Thackeray looked at George Cruikshank’s Phrenological Illustrations (1826), his critical conjectures themselves took on the certainty of phrenological measurement: “The artist has at the back of his own skull, we are certain, a huge bump of philoprogenitiveness.”1 When Thackeray then looked at the early novels of Charles Dickens, that certainty grew to the point where the adjective “huge” was no longer big enough: “As for this man’s love of children, that amiable organ at the back of his honest head must be perfectly monstrous.”2 More recent readers of Dickens may hesitate to draw Thackeray’s conclusion from the evidence Thackeray saw, but they are nevertheless compelled to account for that evidence somehow. In studies of the fiction and journalism of Dickens, therefore, the figure of the child and the topic of childhood have always loomed large-and have sometimes even appeared to assume “monstrous” proportions. As Mark Spilka noted in his seminal essay of 1984, Dickens broke new ground in situating the child as “the affective center of fiction”3-an innovation shown in the imaginative power of his portrayals of childhood in figures like Oliver Twist, Little Nell or David Copperfield. His ability to switch from seeing childhood from one perspective to seeing it from another is evidenced in the contrasting views expressed by the diners who gather around the Gargery Christmas dinner table in chapter 4 of Great Expectations, for while Mr Hubble declares that children are “Naterally wicious,”4 Joe’s tender regard for the orphaned child is comically manifested by his mutely spooning gravy onto the young Pip’s plate. But as one of Dickens’s grown-up children, Joe himself attests to the complexity that characterizes Dickens’s treatment of the concept of childhood.