By Neil Cocks (auth.)
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Additional resources for The Peripheral Child in Nineteenth Century Literature and its Criticism
I understand these difficulties in reading Walter as limited and separate to impact upon the various critical accounts of the scene that appeal to the child’s fundamental functionality. 32 Within this formulation, physical contact with the seemingly asocial child is not an end, but that by which Wentworth can reach through to something else. Contact with the child is only an ‘agency’ for the ‘relief’ of another, and it is this that affords it the status of ‘transitional object’. I read the claim to be that the physicality of the child enables it to take on extraneous identities without effecting or being effected by them.
27 24 The Peripheral Child Counter to this understanding of the son as falling outside the play of the narrative he inaugurates, I would suggest that he can be implicated in its ‘flight’, even only in terms of his namelessness. For one whose apparently limited significance is founded on his restriction to a single date, the son, through the deferral of meaning I am reading to constitute the child in the text, has the remarkable ability to be always somewhere else, with the meaning of his lack of a first name taking in, at the very least, Anne, Frederick, two nurses and every other nameless child.
The ‘still-born son’ is the child that is constantly returned to as the always evaded. The most marginal of children can be read as the most central, just as the child, as most marginal of subjects, can be read in terms of the most privileged: the adult, desiring and romantic. 4 ‘Another minute brought another addition’ The ‘still-born son’, ‘Little Charles’, ‘Master Harry’, the Harville boys and the ‘chattering girls’ are rarely discussed in readings of Persuasion. There is one child, however, who has received a greater degree of critical attention, although discussion of him is hardly yet a staple of Austen scholarship.