Cathy Collett

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




David L. Clark




This project began as an investigation of the way children are depicted, characterized, and represented in adult literature, or in fiction that is not meant for children. In this sort of literature, child characters are typically very complicated. And the ways in which they are complicated say a great deal about the author's assumptions about children and childhood, and about the dominant assumptions of children and childhood that characterize the author's historical period. In order to speak to the ideas which characterize the Romantic period, this project concentrates critical attention on two texts by Mary Shelley, and two of the stranger child-like characters from her historical period.

This thesis works through what it means to understand the knowledge of kids in terms of what I call the "extracurricular." "Extracurricular" signals this thesis' particular concern with questions relating to the remainders of education and knowledge. Deborah Britzman's work on queer pedagogy provided the language necessary for examining the theoretical and political implications of child knowledge in Shelley. Britzman's discussion of what she terms "difficult knowledge" provided critical traction for talking about the types of education Shelley theorizes, more specifically, in Frankenstein and Matilda, but was not sufficient for a full analysis of the problems that arise in these texts, and within the critical contexts in which the texts are taken up. Instead of simply applying the concept of difficult knowledge to Shelley, this thesis works to translate the Shelleyean concept of "dangerous knowledge" into a model for understanding the relationship of the political to the pedagogical as it pertains to kids. This thesis, in other words, takes place at the intersection of Shelley's discussions of dangerous knowledge and Britzman's discussion of difficult knowledge.

The implications that Shelley's work has for the value of public education, and a less privatized society than the one she witnessed and responded to in her fiction, are still urgent today. While our education system is, ofcourse, profoundly different than the system Shelley was writing about, her demands for a public space (as well as a happy domestic sphere), and a system of public education that is healthy, democratic and keyed towards respecting the knowledge of children represent a politics ofhope in which education is taken seriously because it is understood to have a critical place in the formation of subjectivity.

McMaster University Library