The study of child characters and of children’s literature often focuses on precocious children. By contrast, this paper examines a nineteenth-century type of the child that has received less scholarly attention: the dunce or dull child. I will use dunces to explore Victorian childhood, failure, individual talent, and educability, but also aesthetic category or tone, and the child type. Key texts include Burnett's Little Princess across its multiple iterations, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Smiles' Self Help, the genre paintings of Thomas Webster, and a dunce automaton made by Vichy.
Hannah Field is a lecturer in Victorian literature at the University of Sussex. She has published essays on children's literature in Lion and the Unicorn, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, and Girlhood Studies. Her first book, on the subject of Victorian novelty books for children, will be published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2018.