Romani Studies

Back where they belong: Gypsies, kidnapping and assimilation in Victorian children's literature

Romani Studies (2010), 20, (2), 137–159.

Abstract

Examples of Victorian children's literature are examined to consider the recycling of the 'Gypsy' child-stealing myth, with attention drawn to common features of the stories as an indicator of the narratives' cultural function. Fictions about the adoption and conversion of Gypsy children are read not as texts that tell opposite stories about where Gypsy and non-Gypsy children should reside – with their own or adoptive parents – but as narratives that perform the same ostensible task: demonstrating the subject's proper place in a social order. The article suggests that rather than offer reassurance about where children belong, however, both genres betray anxieties about the legitimacy and naturalness of that social order; they trouble the forms and meaning of 'family', an institution supposed to act as a pillar of Victorian society and its divisions. The compulsive repetition of familial disorder results in the powerful association between Gypsies and kidnapping, an arbitrary connection made to seem obvious and natural through ubiquity.

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Matthews, Jodie