Tending, mending, caring
: constructions of motherhood in popular children's literature from 1945 to 1960

  • Kay Waddilove

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines narrative constructions of motherhood in popular children’s novels published in the U.K. between 1945 and 1960. The interrogation considers family fictions intended for readers of nine years onwards, alongside narratives of development aimed at a female teenage audience of up to sixteen years. It focuses on texts by women writers, most of whom have received little or no attention from scholars in the field of children’s literature. In the case of two better-known authors (Enid Blyton and Noel Streatfeild) the thesis analyses elements of their work that have not previously been scrutinised. The study argues that the novels offer significant representations of maternity which are in dialogue with societal narratives on the changing role of mothers in post-war Britain. It proposes that, as widely-read texts that affirm and challenge received ideals of motherhood, these stories, conventional in form, are open to both compliant and resistant readings that would have played an active role in the creation of subject positions for the young reader. Combining evidence from socio-historic sources as well as literary texts, the research investigates the discursive engagement of the corpus in five substantive chapters, each indicative of shared thematic ideological preoccupations. Performative motherhood is examined through the lenses of the significance of home, domesticity and housework, so-called ‘working mothers’, maternal responsibility for feeding, and the maintenance of femininity. In bringing together such varied aspects of maternal discourse, the thesis makes innovative links between the history, sociology and children’s fiction of motherhood in this period. By rehabilitating formerly well-read, but now-neglected non-canonical works, this study contributes new perspectives within the academy for both children’s literature and motherhood studies. It concludes by evaluating the extent to which maternal ideology of the long 1950s remains a potent force in mothering today, demonstrating that these texts still have resonance.
    Date of Award4 Mar 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorLisa Sainsbury (Supervisor) & Alison Waller (Supervisor)


    • Children's literature
    • Motherhood
    • Twentieth-century studies
    • Family stories
    • 1940's
    • 1950's
    • Femininity
    • Home
    • Popular Literature
    • Career stories

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