Anne Stiles, “New Thought and the Inner Child in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy” (pp. 326–352)

In twenty-first-century popular psychology and self-help literature, the “inner child” refers to an original or true self that serves as a repository of wisdom and creativity for its adult counterpart. This essay traces the modern inner child back to the nineteenth-century new religious movement known as New Thought, which emphasized positive thinking as a means to health and prosperity. Emma Curtis Hopkins, the leading New Thought teacher of the 1880s and 1890s, described an idealized “Man Child” within each adult woman who could lead her to spiritual serenity and worldly success. Frances Hodgson Burnett fictionalized this figure in her blockbuster novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), whose eponymous child hero helps his mother achieve undreamed-of wealth and status. He also serves as her proxy outside of the domestic sphere, allowing her to reach personal goals without appearing selfish or inappropriately ambitious. The novel’s enormous popularity may have had something to do with this symbiotic relationship between mother and son. Then as now, the inner child helped women reconcile social pressures to be selfless and giving with career pursuits and self-indulgent behavior. The persistence of the inner child suggests that contemporary feminism still has work to do in enabling women to embrace opportunities without guilt.

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