Bibliography and Text Collection

1 Books for Young Readers (62)

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1.1 Collections of Mythological Stories (4)

The public schools provided boys of the social elite with a thorough knowledge of the heroes of Greek mythology. The gift books in this section were targeted at a socially wider readership of boys and girls and aimed to create widespread familiarity with classical heroic tradition in the Victorian and Edwardian middle classes. Classical heroes were not easily adaptable to circumstances of modern everyday life and were therefore of limited value as direct models for the readers’ own behaviour, but they could be referenced as part of a long tradition that deemed heroes essential for social life.

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1.2 Gift Books for Boys (43)

Until the end of the nineteenth century, most hero books for young readers were directed – at least overtly – at a male audience, even while many of them were written or edited by women. Though sometimes addressing “young readers” more generally in the preface, content and design of the books suggest that they were targeted at a young male readers. Heroism in the female sex is sometimes acknowledged in these books, but usually with the qualification that such behaviour is a deviation from gender norms. The “unmarked”, seemingly natural association of heroism is with masculinity. However, the books for boys also point out that adventure and mere display of courage or recklessness is not to be confused with “true” heroism. True heroism gives expression to a specific ethic, and it is identical to, or at least blended with, what many texts call “moral” heroism: heroism that expresses strength of character, a sense of duty, care for others and society, up to the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life. Most of the books in this section were marketed for readers aged between 9 and 16, but the way in which some of them are narrated, for instance with explicitly didactic frame narratives, suggests that a younger audience was also addressed.

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1.3 Gift Books for Girls (18)

While female heroes are sometimes mentioned in hero books for boys, books dedicated exclusively to examples of heroism in the female gender do not gain prominence until the late nineteenth century, and in a context in which the “woman question” of the mid-Victorian years yielded to a new, more active and public conceptualisation of womanhood epitomised in the type of the New Woman. However, even in these later books, female heroism is usually presented in relation to the household and everyday life and emphasises suffering, endurance and self-sacrifice. More active heroism is marked as a clear exception to gender norms.

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2 Books for (Adult) Readers of the Working Classes (10)

While examples of heroism in “humble” life were noted in earlier hero books, and also in periodicals for the working classes, most special book collections of working-class heroism did not appear until the late nineteenth century and reflect the increasing democratisation of the heroic during the century. These hero books are usually restricted to heroic behaviour as part of men’s work life or in everyday life and hence strongly influenced by the ethos of Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help. Ordinary men and women prove courageous in extraordinary situations but are not extraordinary themselves.

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3 Books of Christian Heroes (16)

Since gift books were often published by publishers or associations with a philanthropic and/or evangelical orientation, most of them reflect a Christian value system. The books in this section show a special concern with religiously motivated heroism and martyrdom, both on the Protestant and Catholic sides.

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4 Poetry Collections (4)

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