The Water-babies

ISBN : 9780199685455

Charles Kingsley
288 Pages
129 x 196 mm
Pub date
Jul 2014
Oxford World's Classics


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  • A new edition of Kingsley's extraordinary children's fantasy that reprints the original first-edition text and illustrations and explores the book's many different facets.
  • Conventionally regarded as a children's book in its many abridged and expurgated versions, this complete edition reveals the story's other genres, as social polemic, topical satire, moral fable, evolutionary tract, naturalist's handbook, and fairy tale.
  • Introduction by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst explores the genesis and context of Kingsley's tale, its linguistic oddities and imaginative exuberance, delight in nature and scientific discovery mixed with romance and mythic symbolism.
  • First-edition text includes 2 full-page illustrations and 8 engraved chapter initials.
  • Explanatory notes provide a wealth of background information concerning contemporary figures, literature, and events alluded to in the text.
  • Includes an appendix of variants between serial and volume publication and part of Kingsley's essay 'The Wonders of the Shore' in which he first wrote about the myriad creatures living underwater.

'this is all a fairy tale...and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true'

The Water-Babies (1863) is one of the strangest and most powerful children's stories ever written.

In describing the underwater adventures of Tom, a chimney-sweeper's boy who is transformed into a water-baby after he drowns, Charles Kingsley combined comic fantasy and moral fable to extraordinary effect. Tom's encounters with friendly fish, curious lobsters, and characters such as Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby are both an exciting fairy tale and a crash course in evolutionary theory. They also reflect the quirky imagination of one of the great Victorian eccentrics. Tom's adventures are constantly interrupted by Kingsley's sideswipes at contemporary issues such as child labour and the British education system, and they offer a rich satiric take on the great scientific debates of the day.

This edition reprints the original complete version of the story, and includes a lively introduction, detailed explanatory notes, and an appendix that reprints Kingsley's first attempt to describe the mysterious creatures that live under the sea.


Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Charles Kingsley
Appendix I: Textual Variants
Appendix II: 'The Wonders of the Shore'
Explanatory Notes

About the author: 

Charles Kingsley
Brian Alderson and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Fellow and Tutor in English, Magdalen College, Oxford
Brian Alderson has long been involved in the study of children's literature as editor, translator, lecturer, and exhibitions organizer. He takes a particular interest in bibliographic aspects, especially those related to the history of British and American publishing and illustration.
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is the author of Becoming Dickens (Harvard UP, 2011), winner of the 2011 Duff Cooper Prize, and he has edited editions of Dickens's Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books and Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor for Oxford World's Classics. He writes regularly for publications including the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, TLS, and New Statesman.

"This new OUP edition has splendid notes, which should guide you through the abstruse references if you want them too. Theres also a learned introduction for those who like a bit of background information." - Harriet Devine, Shiny New Books

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