The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


This essay explores, by way of visual and textual examples, the role of performance and fantasy in Edwardian childhood. The traditional imagery of childhood in the Victorian and into the Edwardian eras incorporates a connection to innocence and naivety through nature. In contrast, John Singer Sargent’s painting, Marionettes, revitalizes the viewer’s understanding of adolescence in the Edwardian era by reframing a puppet show to focus on the young puppeteer boys rather than the marionettes themselves. Further considerations, by way of Marionettes and related paintings, literature, film, and poetry, reflect on the concepts of representation, theatricality, and social performativity. Sargent’s painting also illuminates themes of sexuality and the freedom of emerging adolescence, which accentuates the divisions of class and gender in relation to this freedom, or the lack thereof. Moreover, each of these components centers on the function and necessity of performance and the social constraints on fantasy in Edwardian childhood, both in social self-presentation and educationally.