Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Water Babies

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley was published in 1863.  It tells the story of Tom, a young chimney sweep, who finds himself in the room of a little rich girl by mistake.  He runs away and ends up in a river where he changes into a water baby.  The rest of the book describes his adventures as he travels down the river and out into the sea.  This is a journey of redemption as he struggles to become "good".  At the end he is turned back into a human becoming a great scientist - "he is now a great man of science, and can plan railroads, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth."

Although I do enjoy Victorian novels, I struggled to finish this one.  I found the long lists of words irritating and I did not like the religious overtones although I realise that The Water Babies is a moral tale aimed at Victorian children.  I found the book boring and would have given up had it not been for the reading challenges.  I can understand why this book went out of favour during the 20th century as there are many examples of insulting references to the Irish, Jews, Catholics and Americans. One example will demonstrate this.  "Did you never hear of the blessed St Brandan, how he preached to the wild Irish on the wild, Kerry coast, he and five other hermits, till they were weary and longed to rest?  For the wild Irish would not listen to them, or come to confession and to mass, but liked better to brew potheen, and dance the pater o'pee, and knock each other over the head with shillelaghs, and shoot each other from behind turf-dykes, and steal each other's cattle, and burn each other's homes."

However I did enjoy some of the descriptions and the part in the story when Tom's master Grimes gets his come uppance and is stuck in a chimney.

Although many 19th century novels can still be read and enjoyed today, I do not think this is not one of them. 


  1. Hmmm...I admit that although your review doesn't encourage me to go out and buy this immediately to read, it does pique my interest! :) Just curious, I guess. :)

  2. I would be interested to hear what you thought of the book - it was not what I expected!