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Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes a water baby. In this new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden's Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonbyasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart's desire.


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Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes a water baby. In this new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden's Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonbyasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart's desire.

30 review for The Water Babies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    Googling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discover by chance that the author invented the word 'cuddly', which first appeared in The Water-Babies. Well, there's your useless fact for today. Googling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discover by chance that the author invented the word 'cuddly', which first appeared in The Water-Babies. Well, there's your useless fact for today.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sean Barrs

    How many people can say that drowning was the best thing that’s ever happened to them? Life is terrible for Tom. He’s an ordinary boy and he’s in an ordinary situation. Granted, it’s a tough situation but it’s still rather ordinary for the time. His master beats him and overworks him. This is the only life Tom knows; thus, when he grows old he will follow the same path. It’s not his fault; he hasn’t known any different. For him, his master is the embodiment of manliness: it’s what Tom thinks he How many people can say that drowning was the best thing that’s ever happened to them? Life is terrible for Tom. He’s an ordinary boy and he’s in an ordinary situation. Granted, it’s a tough situation but it’s still rather ordinary for the time. His master beats him and overworks him. This is the only life Tom knows; thus, when he grows old he will follow the same path. It’s not his fault; he hasn’t known any different. For him, his master is the embodiment of manliness: it’s what Tom thinks he has to be. So he’s on a dangerous path, and then he drowns. The real word is escape because Tom gets turned into a Waterbaby and goes on an adventure of discovery. He sees things that many though were mere fictions and in the process learns a little about life in the process. And that’s the key here, learning. This is a children’s book and all children’s books are full of didacticism of some variety. This one is full of Christian dogma and Victorian world values. Tom gets to experience the meaning of life, at least from the perspective of Kingsley and the imperialistic attitude that went with him. So we have a children’s book, an enjoyable book, but there are a few derogatory jibes on a gender and racial level. This book is a product of its time, and it’s an excellent text to study, though I can clearly see why it has fallen out of favour with contemporary audiences. I wouldn’t hand this to a child today.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Almeta

    I have no idea what edition I read as a child, but I do know that I harbor huge nostalgia about the book's weird adventures and pen and ink illustrations. Every time I see the title at a used book sale, I reflect on my childhood. Now as an adult, having read Goodreads reviews, I wonder what I would think of it. The implied tone of bigotry and morialist snake oil makes me pause about my rating. For now it gets my best. When I re-read it, I will likely be angry and ashamed! ETA: What I believe was de I have no idea what edition I read as a child, but I do know that I harbor huge nostalgia about the book's weird adventures and pen and ink illustrations. Every time I see the title at a used book sale, I reflect on my childhood. Now as an adult, having read Goodreads reviews, I wonder what I would think of it. The implied tone of bigotry and morialist snake oil makes me pause about my rating. For now it gets my best. When I re-read it, I will likely be angry and ashamed! ETA: What I believe was designed to be an allegory for his son, was also a treatise of progressive thoughts of the day. I am so pleased to have re-read this book. I was afraid that I would come to dislike it because of the criticism it receives for prejudices and moralizing. I think this aspect of the book is a good reflection of nineteenth century philosophical thought. However, Kingsley's scientific references make me believe that he was a progressive thinker for his time. "The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see." I took lots of notes during this read. There are so many good little moral lessons to reflect upon. I wonder how this little boy actually turned out when he became a man? I could't just write them all down. It would be like writing the book over again in long-hand. Guess I'll just have to read it again, perhaps an annotated version! My rating still stands at five stars!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    I know this book is pretty controversial, but I enjoyed it in spite of that. As accepted during that time in history, there is definitely some prejudice against other races and nationalities, especially the Irish. The Englishman rules and all others are inferior. But, I just took this as British pride... of course, and Englishman would think his nationality is the best, back in the day. Also, if you aren't Christian, then you are a heathen. No news here, either. However, I was amazed at Kingsley I know this book is pretty controversial, but I enjoyed it in spite of that. As accepted during that time in history, there is definitely some prejudice against other races and nationalities, especially the Irish. The Englishman rules and all others are inferior. But, I just took this as British pride... of course, and Englishman would think his nationality is the best, back in the day. Also, if you aren't Christian, then you are a heathen. No news here, either. However, I was amazed at Kingsley forward-thinking regarding the environment and pollution, and the raising of children in a kind and forgiving manner. No "spare the rod, spoil the child" sentiment here. He doesn't believe in physical, psychological, verbal punishment. It's cute how he talks directly to his 4-year-old, for whom he wrote the book. I can't believe I went this long without reading this lovely little classic. The edition I read had lovely illustrations, too!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    What a weird little book. I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it. Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child. Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it. I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child. I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Da What a weird little book. I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it. Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child. Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it. I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child. I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Beliefs weren’t quite so cut and dried at that time apparently. I also have to think that Kingsley had read Gulliver’s Travels and may have aspired to produce something similar. His comments on contemporary events, seemingly scattered at random through the text, suggest those aspirations. It was also a strange mix of mythology, fairy tales, and Christianity. Very, very odd.

  6. 5 out of 5

    wrench

    I literally drop kicked this book into a bin.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    written 1862-1863. Reading this once was enough. Future self, if you ever forget what reading it was like and consider giving it another go? Don't. A young chimney sweep, who is mistreated by his master accidentally frightens a young girl in the house they are working in. He runs off, fearing he'll be in trouble, and ends up drowning. I enjoyed it up until this point. It was apparently meant to be a lesson on, amongst other things, child labor and the treatment of the boy by his master would be a written 1862-1863. Reading this once was enough. Future self, if you ever forget what reading it was like and consider giving it another go? Don't. A young chimney sweep, who is mistreated by his master accidentally frightens a young girl in the house they are working in. He runs off, fearing he'll be in trouble, and ends up drowning. I enjoyed it up until this point. It was apparently meant to be a lesson on, amongst other things, child labor and the treatment of the boy by his master would be a good argument against. It actually seemed like it might have been better if the story ended here. But it doesn't. So for the next however many pages, we have to follow the kid around as he apparently turns into a baby newt and explores a river, and later an ocean, tormenting the wildlife as he goes. It's also got a pretty heavy-handed focus on him learning to be a good person, and redeeming himself by good behaviour... Kind of interesting as a look at British attitudes towards the rest of the world during this time period. Would not have wanted to be Irish in England at this time. The English didn't like Americans much either from a couple passages I remember (which was a little funny, just because it seems so odd).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike Horne

    Wow, that was bad! In college I went through a Charles Kingsley phase (Westward Ho, Hypatia, Alton Locke). I remember reading this and thinking it was good. Probably the most wrong opinion I have ever held. The tone is so smarmy, you just want to slap the author (who is rabidly anti-irish). Here is probably the best quote of the book-which gives you a taste-- "Now you may fancy that Tom was quite good, when he had everything that he could want or wish: but you would be very much mistaken. Being q Wow, that was bad! In college I went through a Charles Kingsley phase (Westward Ho, Hypatia, Alton Locke). I remember reading this and thinking it was good. Probably the most wrong opinion I have ever held. The tone is so smarmy, you just want to slap the author (who is rabidly anti-irish). Here is probably the best quote of the book-which gives you a taste-- "Now you may fancy that Tom was quite good, when he had everything that he could want or wish: but you would be very much mistaken. Being quite comfortable is a very good thing; but it does not make people good. Indeed, it sometimes makes them naughty, as it has made the people in America; and as it made the people in the Bible, who waxed fat and kicked, like horses overfed and underworked." Lewis Carrol or George MacDonald is so much better.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Why must you torture the children, Charles? When I read that Charles Kingsley and Charles Darwin had been friends, I was so disappointed. Why? Why didn't dear Mr. D pull aside Mr. K and gently offer a sort of "I say old boy! This is bananas!" You know. Like they do. Or should have. I started listening to a librivox recording while I was painting the room that is to become my new office-library. I had read about this author and had seen the title and knew, vaguely, that Mr. K was writing at about t Why must you torture the children, Charles? When I read that Charles Kingsley and Charles Darwin had been friends, I was so disappointed. Why? Why didn't dear Mr. D pull aside Mr. K and gently offer a sort of "I say old boy! This is bananas!" You know. Like they do. Or should have. I started listening to a librivox recording while I was painting the room that is to become my new office-library. I had read about this author and had seen the title and knew, vaguely, that Mr. K was writing at about the same time as Edith Nesbit and George MacDonald, and I have been aware of their influence on contemporary fiction for children. So why not give it a whirl? The reader's voice was pleasing, which is not always the case, and, heck, it's free! Chapter One: Social reform on the menu, the old chimney sweep noble poor trope... got it. Chapter Two: I remember a WHAT HECK moment at the very *end* of At the Back of the North Wind, so I was a little bit prepared for some whackadoodle, but I did not expect Babies to go off the rails so quickly. Even though it just went from bad to worse from there, I kept listening in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome haze. There are a few chuckle-worthy lines in those early chapters, and I could see that there was a religion-science theme going that was moderately interesting, insofar as it gives an idea of the struggle at that time to reconcile new ideas about the world. But mostly, I felt I was seeing for the first time the primary source material that must have had a great influence on my father when he was a child, and that gave me a sense of morbid fascination. So I pressed onward. But then I had to listen to chapter five twice, because I was thinking of other things, and by that time I was finished with the second coat of paint, and the weekend was over and listening time, too. I didn't so much feel compelled to finish the book because I was wrapped up in the story; I merely wanted to say I'd finished it. So I nipped over to the library to pick up a print copy, thinking I could read-skim to the end. I found not one but two copies! One version, very old, no publication date, had only been checked out once, in 1926. And the other, a critical edition edited by Richard Kelly, 2008, had never been checked out at all. (Hint.) Guess what? In print, still not compelling! The appendices, with critical essays, were interesting, but the text itself? I just couldn't do it. I may never finish those last chapters. If I were writing a dissertation, yes. For pleasure, no. Absolutely not. On the whole, it's a strange combination of bizarre and tediously morally superior with a dash of charm thrown in now and again. Why would you subject a child to this? Or anyone? Just don't.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Raymond St.

    Caritas and Empire; the two do not sit well together in the soul. What can a man do to resolve the debate within? He can tell a story that resolves the conflict; for him, at least. Kingsley reviewed an advance copy of 'Origin of Species'. The concept provided his key to reconciling contradictions of 19th century morality. Evolution allowed him to declare that a man may preach 'do as you would be done by', and yet happily dismiss the mechanical cruelties of industrial and cultural empire. He frame Caritas and Empire; the two do not sit well together in the soul. What can a man do to resolve the debate within? He can tell a story that resolves the conflict; for him, at least. Kingsley reviewed an advance copy of 'Origin of Species'. The concept provided his key to reconciling contradictions of 19th century morality. Evolution allowed him to declare that a man may preach 'do as you would be done by', and yet happily dismiss the mechanical cruelties of industrial and cultural empire. He frames this strange declaration as a child’s fairy tale. Therein, existence is shown to be ruled by two magical beings. The kind and beautiful Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and her stern, ugly sister, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid. They represent karmic moral law. Do well, and the pretty fairy shall reward you. Do ill, the stern fairy shall punish you. Kingsley’s genius is to integrate that into biological law and come out with something better than pre-Nazi sausage. For “Water Babies” is unique, imaginative and moving. A wonder of Victorian fantasy equal to Alice and Back of the North Wind. “Did not learned men, too, hold, till within the last twenty-five years, that a flying dragon was an impossible monster? And do we not now know that there are hundreds of them found fossil up and down the world? People call them Pterodactyls: but that is only because they are ashamed to call them flying dragons, after denying so long that flying dragons could exist.” --The Water Babies Kingsley’s reconciliation of Empire and Caritas is a fairy tale biology sermon. It is also a wonder of a fantasy novel. Half forgotten, for all its former fame. Not surprising. It is over-spiked with insults to peoples whose sufferings do not need a clever man’s contempt. There is a repeated declaration in Water Babies, first stated when poor soot-covered Tom wishes he could wash: “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be. Remember.” Make that the saving grace. In Charles Kingsley’ s ‘Water Babies’, the wish to affirm Caritas is stronger, greater, louder than the desire to justify Empire.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    In this book, the reader gets to accompany young Tom on a fantastic journey. As the journey progresses, the book gets worse. First fifty pages or so: 4-5 stars. I'm enjoying this for what it is--a fairy tale ostensibly for children. There's a little chimney sweep, the aforementioned Tom, who works for a cruel master. He encounters a beautiful--and clean--young lady but due to a misunderstanding is chased off her property. Next fifty or so pages: 3 stars. Okay, so this has taken an odd turn and see In this book, the reader gets to accompany young Tom on a fantastic journey. As the journey progresses, the book gets worse. First fifty pages or so: 4-5 stars. I'm enjoying this for what it is--a fairy tale ostensibly for children. There's a little chimney sweep, the aforementioned Tom, who works for a cruel master. He encounters a beautiful--and clean--young lady but due to a misunderstanding is chased off her property. Next fifty or so pages: 3 stars. Okay, so this has taken an odd turn and seems to no longer have anything to do with the first part. Tom's a water-baby. I knew this was a fairy tale, so maybe this is will be the main/best part and it just took a while to get here. However I need to look up the year this was written because for a children's story it's getting a bit racist: "So you must not trust Dennis, because he is in the habit of [lying]: but, instead of being angry with him, you must remember that he is a poor Paddy, and knows no better...and then he will burst out laughing too, and slave for you...and wonder all the while why poor ould Ireland does not prosper line England and Scotland" (73-4); "The seal put his head and shoulders out of the water, and stared at him, exactly like a fat old greasy Negro with a gray pate" (86); "Being quite comfortable is a very good thing, but it does not make people good. Indeed, it sometimes makes them naughty, as it has made the people in America" (135); "when people live on poor vegetables instead of roast beef and plum-pudding, their jaws grow large, and their lips grow coarse, like the poor Paddies who eat potatoes" (149). Next fifty odd pages: 2 stars. My god this is starting to just be the most random string of events. Even the blithe narrative voice is wearing on me. I'm still trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. Remember, it's for kids. It does remind me of telling a story to Jameson when he just wants me to keep going on and on and the ideas get more and more ridiculous and completely unconnected because I'm basically rambling randomly. Another thing that reminded me of Jameson, "And he thought of nothing but lollipops by day, and dreamt of nothing else by night" (135). Final 50 something pages: 1 star. I simply can't take it anymore. I can barely read two pages without completely zoning out, which wouldn't matter since I could jump ahead ten pages and still not be lost in this aimless plot. I'm also getting angry because this was supposed to be my very fast end of 2013 read just to reach 50 books and instead it's already putting me behind on my 2014 challenge! A thought: I've never read Alice in Wonderland, but when I think of the children's movie I recall it being a string of one fantastical event after another. Would I have the same reaction reading that? Or are the worlds and characters created therein enough to carry a haphazard plot? A Favorite Quotation: "When all the world is young, lad, And all the trees are green; And every goose a swan, lad, And every lass a queen; Then hey for boot and horse, lad, And round the world away! Young blood must have its course, lad, And every dog his day. When all the world is old, lad, And all the trees are brown; And all the sport is stale, lad, And all the wheels run down; Creep home, and take your place there, The spent and maimed among; God grant you find one face there, 16 You loved when all was young" (52-3).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Humphrey Carpenter's "Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature" sounds like something I ought to have read. The period it describes runs from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, placing The Water-Babies right near its start and certainly an influence on everything from "Alice In Wonderland", a few years later, to "Peter Pan". It is also one of those children's books which contains "much that is unintelligible to children", as one reviewer put it; Kingsley was an Ang Humphrey Carpenter's "Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature" sounds like something I ought to have read. The period it describes runs from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, placing The Water-Babies right near its start and certainly an influence on everything from "Alice In Wonderland", a few years later, to "Peter Pan". It is also one of those children's books which contains "much that is unintelligible to children", as one reviewer put it; Kingsley was an Anglican minister who was nonetheless a follower of Darwin and, it is said, spent much of his intellectual life reconciling the two. The overwhelming multiplicity of the natural world and the persistence of wonder is the dominant theme (as well as a very Anglican kind of moralism). The swirling, rapidly-changing surrealism of the underwater environment and the number of fantastic creatures would make a good subject for the animator Hayao Miyazaki. Alasdair Gray lists it as an influence on Lanark. The depiction of most non-English peoples (with particular attention to the Irish) as somewhere between uncivilized and subhuman may have contributed to this no longer being part of the canon - apparently a sanitized Puffin edition was brought out in the early 80s.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Mridula

    A childhood favourite. I don't know what I'd make of it now. This was a gift to me by one of my favourite aunts, a highly intellectual lady and an alumnus of the JNU (she is no more, sadly). It gathered dust on my shelf for quite a long time before I picked it up one day and devoured it in a single sitting. I cannot remember much of the story. The part involving child labour distressed me a lot, even though I wanted to try my hand at chimney-sweeping; also, I loved the part about the water babies A childhood favourite. I don't know what I'd make of it now. This was a gift to me by one of my favourite aunts, a highly intellectual lady and an alumnus of the JNU (she is no more, sadly). It gathered dust on my shelf for quite a long time before I picked it up one day and devoured it in a single sitting. I cannot remember much of the story. The part involving child labour distressed me a lot, even though I wanted to try my hand at chimney-sweeping; also, I loved the part about the water babies and their carefree lifestyle. I remember that towards the end the villain got some kind of retribution, and that the protagonist forgave him - I forget the details. There was a comic strip in one of our local weeklies which was a mix of this story and Pinocchio. I remember that vividly. It was called "Mannunni".

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    Beautifully written morality tale. The adventures of young Tom the chimney sweep is a classic written in the 1860s. This is fast paced and filled with one memorable scene after another.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Gregg

    Summary: The audiobook narration is truly one of the finest that can be found -- really superb. The book itself is particularly good, and educational, though some caveats must be made. The Book: Just absolutely delightful! Keenly imaginative, clever, and funny. Interwoven naturally with charming little lessons (which don't feel like lessons) about wildlife, biology, even geology and meteorology. Really very excellent morals throughout the whole tale. Keep Wikipedia and Google near at hand in orde Summary: The audiobook narration is truly one of the finest that can be found -- really superb. The book itself is particularly good, and educational, though some caveats must be made. The Book: Just absolutely delightful! Keenly imaginative, clever, and funny. Interwoven naturally with charming little lessons (which don't feel like lessons) about wildlife, biology, even geology and meteorology. Really very excellent morals throughout the whole tale. Keep Wikipedia and Google near at hand in order to look up all the interesting real-life creatures (some of whose popular or scientific names have changed since 1863), and historical or literary figures. This would make a great book to read along with a child, and will not only fascinate them but spark quite a number of good discussions. That said, I read this for the first time as an adult, and without a child to read it to, and I loved it as well. Disclaimer: You must remember the era in which this was written, and the subsequent changes in the attitudes of society, or you may be taken aback by an occasional comment which we may feel is rather too comfortable with racial and national stereotypes -- the most malicious being one or two to the effect that the Irish tend to lie or be poorly educated. Others include: Jews are rich, blacks know how to dance, and Americans are spoiled due to their comforts. Still -- good occasions for discussion and another good reason to read this along with your children. It is worth it. The Editions I Read: I listened to the Simon Vance audiobook, which turned out to be, to my surprise, one of the best narrations I've ever had the pleasure to hear (and I listen to lots and lots of audiobooks, many by Simon Vance in fact). I also read along in an illustrated Kindle ebook (though the illustrations appears to be out of sequence), in order to look up the words and make highlights. This method worked very well. But the audiobook really brought the whole thing to life, giving it a vibrant and contextualized character I'm not sure I would have succeeded in matching on my own. I've heard Simon Vance on a number of occasions before, and he's always wonderful, but he really outdid himself this time. It feels as though he really loved the book personally (perhaps from his own childhood) and so gave more of himself to the narration than usual.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This took some time to read due to work and other things, however it was a good read. What I found with this was a need to understand the way of life in the time it was penned. There were a number of times that I stopped to check a comment here and there against a book on victorian politics, way of life etc. which made the book far more readable. One obvious reference is made with regards to the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria. A book that starts off like a typical dickensian story ends This took some time to read due to work and other things, however it was a good read. What I found with this was a need to understand the way of life in the time it was penned. There were a number of times that I stopped to check a comment here and there against a book on victorian politics, way of life etc. which made the book far more readable. One obvious reference is made with regards to the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria. A book that starts off like a typical dickensian story ends up the most bizzarre and weirdest travalogue ever. Sadly a lot 1 star complainers do not seem to have a knowledge of the era. Good fun!

  17. 5 out of 5

    BookSweetie

    Last line: "But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true." THE WATER BABIES by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, a Victorian era children's novel first published in book form in England in 1863, achieved a level of popularity for decades in its day that spurred me as an adult to read it a hundred and fifty years later. Although it occupied a familiar place in British ch Last line: "But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true." THE WATER BABIES by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, a Victorian era children's novel first published in book form in England in 1863, achieved a level of popularity for decades in its day that spurred me as an adult to read it a hundred and fifty years later. Although it occupied a familiar place in British children's literary history, a modern day reader might find parts of the book surprising fare for children -- then or now. In fact, an adult might appreciate an annotated version of this book about Tom, the chimney sweep who dies and is turned into a water baby, given that the author does more than simply sprinkle into the story philosophical and scientific points and issues, including swirling debates such as that let loose in the late 1850's in Darwin's Origin of Species. ................................... Here's a key section from the book that gives a flavor of the writing: "A water-baby? You never heard of a water-baby. Perhaps not. That is the very reason why this story was written. There are a great many things in the world which you never heard of; and a great many more which nobody ever heard of; and a great many things, too, which nobody will ever hear of, at least until the coming of the Cocqcigrues, when man shall be the measure of all things. 'But there are no such things as water-babies.' How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none. If Mr. Garth does not find a fox in Eversley Wood—as folks sometimes fear he never will—that does not prove that there are no such things as foxes. And as is Eversley Wood to all the woods in England, so are the waters we know to all the waters in the world. And no one has a right to say that no water-babies exist, till they have seen no water-babies existing; which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water-babies; and a thing which nobody ever did, or perhaps ever will do." .......... In brief: An important English children's literature example with its didactic-style moral fable... but dated and not particularly recommended for children any longer given some of its weaknesses. Although children do have a way of skipping over parts that interrupt the story pacing to get on with the plot -- which would be necessary with WATER BABIES--, in my opinion, many other better books exist to share with children.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Free download available at Project Gutenberg. Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Crane

    It brought back childhood memories.Of reading lots of children books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    D.M. Dutcher

    Wow, this is horrible. Tom, a chimney-sweep under the drunk, foul-tempered Mr. Grimes, one day goes with him to do a job at the local lord's manor. He by mistake enters the room of a young girl, who is startled by his soot-covered appearance, and raises a fuss. Everyone chases him, and he flees only to die ("changed by a fairy") and be transformed into a water-baby. He then has to become a real man again. It's just a mess of a book. Apparently, daughters of rich people are naturally perfect and be Wow, this is horrible. Tom, a chimney-sweep under the drunk, foul-tempered Mr. Grimes, one day goes with him to do a job at the local lord's manor. He by mistake enters the room of a young girl, who is startled by his soot-covered appearance, and raises a fuss. Everyone chases him, and he flees only to die ("changed by a fairy") and be transformed into a water-baby. He then has to become a real man again. It's just a mess of a book. Apparently, daughters of rich people are naturally perfect and become fairies, while abused chimney sweeps have to do herculean labors to get redemption. Also, the language is horribly treacly and cloying. Kingsley is fond of endless lists of single words, nonsense words, overt racism (especially towards the Irish-a good drinking game is to take a shot when you see the words "Poor Paddy") and endless diatribes against scientists. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a good anti-scientist diatribe, but a smart 6 year old could eviscerate the things he does. "Hippopotamus in the brain" indeed. The world is inconsistent. The water baby starts out in the sea, but then starts traveling through pure allegorical lands out of pilgrim's progress. He doesn't seem to have any real unifying moral vision that makes sense, and what weird moralizing comes through is syrupy and thick. And I'm some one not opposed to this, enjoying At the Back of the North Wind! Which is a far, far superior book, by the way. It's even horrific at times. A poor, exhausted Tom is led to a stream and transformed into a water-baby by the fairies, feverish and feeling he needs to wash himself to be clean. Mr Grimes is rescued from a fate in his afterlife, but the solution is just as bad if not worse. The fairies drive one kindhearted professor who didn't believe in him near insane. There's a very distasteful undercurrent even beyond the overt things. For good fairies, they do an awful lot of bad things. So really, pass on this unless you want to read it as a historical curiosity. Even as short as it is, it's a chore to read and an embarrassment to kid's literature and the entire Victorian era.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Raj

    This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn't worth it. Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It i This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn't worth it. Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It is a Victorian moral fable and although it's stated that it's aimed at children, and has a fairly simplistic style, it is interspersed with philosophical tracts and concepts that would go right above the head of most children. It also has a very dismissive attitude towards Americans, Jews and (particularly) the Irish (although seems keen on the Scots) which makes for some unpleasant reading. I just couldn't really engage with this book at all, and only its short length got me through it, although my edition does have some fantastic illustrations by Lindsey Sambourne. There's enough other good Victorian literature for children that you don't have to read this one.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    It's like a terrible 19th-century version of The Phantom Tollbooth. Smarmy, racist, didactic, and everything that was crappy about Victorian attitudes, all rolled up into one boring, overlong waste of time. Feel offended that goodreads recommended this to me. I deserve better. It's like a terrible 19th-century version of The Phantom Tollbooth. Smarmy, racist, didactic, and everything that was crappy about Victorian attitudes, all rolled up into one boring, overlong waste of time. Feel offended that goodreads recommended this to me. I deserve better.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Revill

    I read this book many years ago but what is really nice is that my children and grandchildren loved this book too. There are some beautiful plates in the book that make the book very appealing. Pure nostalgia. Storytelling at it's best. Recommended. I read this book many years ago but what is really nice is that my children and grandchildren loved this book too. There are some beautiful plates in the book that make the book very appealing. Pure nostalgia. Storytelling at it's best. Recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    George

    A delightful fairy tale, part nature study, about Tom, a young ten year old boy who works as a chimney sweep. Through some adventures he falls into a stream and turns into a water baby. As a water baby Tom learns how to be a caring, thoughtful young boy and responsible member of society. A children’s classic first published in 1864.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Arukiyomi

    This was not for me. Yes, I understand the importance of the book at time, how it was a satire on Darwin’s classic and the fact that it predates Alice in Wonderland did impress me when I compared their publication dates. But it just got on my nerves after about chapter three and from then on right until the end where, confronted with the most ridiculous last line in the history of literature, my patience gave way entirely. So what irritated me? Well, the awful patronising tone of Kingsley the nar This was not for me. Yes, I understand the importance of the book at time, how it was a satire on Darwin’s classic and the fact that it predates Alice in Wonderland did impress me when I compared their publication dates. But it just got on my nerves after about chapter three and from then on right until the end where, confronted with the most ridiculous last line in the history of literature, my patience gave way entirely. So what irritated me? Well, the awful patronising tone of Kingsley the narrator who writes as if everyone is a) male and b) white Caucasian and c) wealthy, educated, clean and morally superior. It’s patronising and prejudiced in the extreme and pulls no punches in its portrayal of the Scots, the Irish, the Jews, etc. There’s this kid Tom who ends up going up one chimney and coming down the wrong one in some massive house which just happens to border some land which contains a stream where, for fear of his life, he flees and, somehow, becomes a Water Baby, some kind of waterbound fairy. He then undertakes, for reasons not apprent to me, some epic quest to get to the Back End of Somewhere or the Bottom Side of Everywhere or somesuch meaningless location. Along the way, he meets a range of fantastic beings who are loosely based on magical interpretations of real life beings. Most are as patronisingly moralising as Kingsley himself so there’s really no let up. The story’s really not that interesting actually. You certainly don’t really care what happens to Tom. If he’d been eaten by a pike, I don’t think I would have noticed actually. Of course, he achieves his aim, but this is by means of passing some kind of moral litmus test of doing something right even though it’s not something he wants to do. The implication is that our highest moral deeds are those which are done in the face of extreme distaste. That’s a great shame for people like Mother Theresa whose entire life’s work count for nothing because they actually love people and want to help them. Bummer. Yep, next time I actually want to inconvenience myself for the sake of others, I’ll think twice before doing so and wait until I really, really, deep, deep down in my heart don’t want to at all. Then it will count. But, count for what exactly? For nothing at all of course. Kingsley seems to have believed that you attain some kind of moral status by piling up good actions one after another (all without wanting to of course). What a sad fallacy for such an intelligent man to propound. No matter what we do in this life, we’re all so far short of moral perfection that we all pretty much look the same from the viewpoint of moral purity. Anyway, all loose ends are neatly tied up and put to bed with a kiss and a warm glass of milk. Then, after having said repeatedly every other paragraph that just because someone says something is not true, that doesn’t mean it isn’t, the epilogue tells you not to bother believing a word of anything you’ve just read even if it is true. Great. Thanks. Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are so, so much better at giving us a satirical insight into ourselves and our lives than The Water Babies there’s hardly any comparison between them. Lewis Carrol was a genius who took Kingsley’s timebound witterings and made them into a timeless literary classic which both children and adults will treasure for hundreds of years to come, long after the last person has read that pointless last line of The Water Babies for the last time in human history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In Victorian London, Tom is the ill-used apprentice to the evil chimney sweep Grimes. All Tom has to look forward to is the fun of throwing bricks at horses' legs, and dreaming of the time when he's grown and it's his turn to get to beat and bully little children. Yay. Then Grimes gets called to clean chimneys at a large country house, and Tom gets lost in the labyrinth of chimneys and ends up in the bedroom of a little girl, who screams in fright. Tom leaps out the window, and is chased over hi In Victorian London, Tom is the ill-used apprentice to the evil chimney sweep Grimes. All Tom has to look forward to is the fun of throwing bricks at horses' legs, and dreaming of the time when he's grown and it's his turn to get to beat and bully little children. Yay. Then Grimes gets called to clean chimneys at a large country house, and Tom gets lost in the labyrinth of chimneys and ends up in the bedroom of a little girl, who screams in fright. Tom leaps out the window, and is chased over hill and dale (literally) until he's too exhausted to continue. He enters a brook, and there the fairies take away his dirty shell (which the now-repentant chasers assume is his body and mourn him as dead) and make him a water-baby. That's the start of his many adventures as a water baby, which teach him (and the reader) about natural sciences and all forms of morality. He travels from the brook to the ocean, to St. Brendan's Isle, where he meets the fairies Bedonebyasyoudid and Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After learning all he needs to there (mostly morals), he embarks on an adventure to the north to meet Mother Carey, then to the edge of Nowhere to do something he doesn't want to do but must. He has many adventures and encounters along the way, with creatures of the natural world, fairies, and allegorical characters (I think). On the plus side: Kingsley is clearly very creative, and a student of natural sciences (maybe we didn't need quite that much biological detail). There are many lyrical passages of beautiful description. He also clearly cares deeply about children, and feels fury at the many ways in which they are abused and ill-treated, either intentionally or through ignorance or arrogance. He's perspicacious about the effect of continual beating and bullying, in that it just creates adults who repeat their own treatment on new children. I liked the beginning part, which was reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett's books, and mostly free of didacticism. Tom seemed like a normal, mischevious, fairly thoughtless boy. In terms of studying Victorian literature and attitudes, this is a home run for scholars. On the negative side: It's a terrible book for children. Terrible. It's full of racism, classism, didacticism (up the yin yang), moralism, melodrama, death obsession, and vast amounts of saccharine. It takes pot shots at most everyone who's not straight-line British, beef-eating (he denigrates vegetarians as devolving into apes), Boys' Own, religious, moral...etc. It tries to frighten and guilt children into what the Victorians considered "proper" behavior. And the lists. Argh, the lists! Where a modern writer would use, at most, three words to describe an action or object, Kinsley will happily use twenty or more. So, only read this if you're an adult interested in learning about Victorian children's literature. If you want something for your kid with an equally complex vocabulary and no didacticism, get Valente's 'The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.'

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    Even as a kid I thought this story was pretty heavy on the sanctimonious didacticism, but it still has great imagery. And my version had very pretty illustrations.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sharah McConville

    I loved this Classic when I was young but don't think I actually realised how sad it really was. I loved this Classic when I was young but don't think I actually realised how sad it really was.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    The Water-Babies first appeared in book form in May 1863, exactly a century-and-a-half ago. Though I was probably aware of it when younger, I must have read it for myself pretty much a half-century ago in one of those cheap Dent’s children’s classics editions. A decade later I was re-reading it and taking notes, spurred on by the challenge Kingsley issues in his dedication: Come read me my riddle, each good little man: If you cannot read it, no grown-up folk can. Of course, The Water-Babies was wr The Water-Babies first appeared in book form in May 1863, exactly a century-and-a-half ago. Though I was probably aware of it when younger, I must have read it for myself pretty much a half-century ago in one of those cheap Dent’s children’s classics editions. A decade later I was re-reading it and taking notes, spurred on by the challenge Kingsley issues in his dedication: Come read me my riddle, each good little man: If you cannot read it, no grown-up folk can. Of course, The Water-Babies was written for his youngest son, Grenville Arthur, who was just five when the last chapter was serialised in Macmillan’s Magazine, but I felt that I was included amongst the ‘all other good little boys’ of the dedication. But being from a hundred and more years later I could hardly be expected to get all the references, and so began decades of intermittent desultory research. This 1995 issue with Brian Alderson’s introduction, extensive notes, select bibliography and chronology of Kingsley’s life both confirmed and hugely expanded my understanding of the novel; but to be honest I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this fascinating if flawed masterpiece. This review, therefore, can only hint at the solution to Kingsley’s sly riddle. Its serialisation in eight monthly instalments works in favour of The Water-Babies' structure. The first chapter is mostly set in Harthover Place, which we must now imagine as a grand pile somewhere in North Yorkshire (though its principal model is Bramshill House in Hampshire, on the market in 2013 for £25 million). Kingsley’s own contradictory character is aptly matched by the Place’s topsy-turvy architecture where the most ancient parts are the attics and wings and the core of the building the most recent. On a midsummer morning Tom the climbing boy – whose name and nature is derived from a multitude of sources, from Mesopotamian god Thammuz to William Blake’s ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ – gets lost in its maze of chimneys and emerges into the bedroom of Miss Ellie, the young sleeping beauty of Harthover. The resulting hue-and-cry after the presumed thief through woods and moors and up to Lewthwaite Crag (a thinly-disguised Malham Cove) is wonderfully narrated, and gives rein to Kingsley’s impassioned evocation of nature. Chapter II takes Tom down into Vendale, a fictional river valley – later purloined by novelist William Mayne in, for example, The Twelve Dancers. Tom comes into contact with the first of many mysterious feminine archetypes who guide his way through to maturity, a mysterious Irishwoman, and then an older woman who runs a Dame School; this theme must reflect Kingsley’s experience, typical of the age, of a loving mother and a distant or aloof father. What then happens to the unfortunate Tom breaks the heart, based as it must be on the distressing experience Kingsley had when at boarding school in Devon. His younger brother Herbert foolishly stole a silver spoon to sell before running away from school and spending the night in the open. After being arrested Herbert became ill with rheumatic fever and died, to Charles’ great anguish. Though his death was attributed to a heart condition exacerbated by the fever, there is a Helston tradition that he drowned himself in Looe Pool. Whatever the truth of the matter, knowing that his younger brother died in a misadventure following a theft adds real poignancy to Kingsley’s tale. Before 1862 Charles was also to suffer the loss of a sister in infancy, another brother at sea and, most recently, his father. But Tom’s accidental drowning in the Vendale stream is not the end of the matter. Here he is reborn as a water-baby less than four inches long, with a set of external gills to help him survive underwater. Now, you might think that as a clergyman Kingsley would expect innocents to go to heaven. However, Tom was not a Christian and had never been to church, so the author’s solution is to turn Tom into the aquatic version of a fairy or elf, with a chance of redemption through intentions and actions. Here begins Kingsley’s morphing of the fairy tale for a land-baby into something much more complex, a transformation which can leave modern readers cold as they are subjected to his many digressions on social and scientific issues, his references to contemporary events and people, his moralising and his prejudices. Without the homework that could help enlighten Kingsley’s obscurities The Water-Babies is a tough climb, and here Brian Alderson is a top-notch guide. Tom’s rehabilitation starts in the trout stream, where he learns a live-and-let-live existence with his fellow creatures, has a fright involving his former master Grimes and then catches his first sight of other water-babies like himself. By Chapter IV he has moved down to the sea where, as luck will have had it, he has a close encounter with Miss Ellie and her pedantic tutor. Kingsley’s love of lists in the manner of Rabelais comes to the fore here, a distraction from the tragedy-in-waiting which will profoundly affect Tom’s future. In Chapter V Tom finally meets and mingles with other water-babies before encountering two more feminine archetypes, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and her sister fairy Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, personifications of the Golden Rule from the Sermon on the Mount, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He has more life lessons to learn if he is to achieve his desire, especially that those who want to go to a better place “must go first where they do not like, and do what they do not like, and help somebody they do not like.” And thus he embarks on his journey to the Other-end-of-Nowhere, a kaleidoscopic quest that takes up most of the remainder of the book. Kingsley was such a complex character, full of contradictions. Modern sensibilities are quite rightly uncomfortable with comments he makes on Jews, the Irish, Catholics and Africans, and it’s no real defence to say that these attitudes were commonplace in his day. And yet we know, for example, that he happily entertained the Queen of the Sandwich Islands in his rectory, and that he regarded the treatment of blacks in the Confederate States during the American Civil War as inhumane. He was a chaplain to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales’ tutor at Cambridge, and yet as a Christian Socialist he was ever mindful of and sympathetic to the needs of ordinary people, such as city-dwellers succumbing to avoidable disease, and the gypsies of his parish. As an Anglican clergyman he was deeply religious and yet he fully agreed with the evolutionary principles in Darwin’s Origin of Species published in 1859. He combined a bookishness (sermons, novels, lectures, poems, reviews and scientific papers poured from his pen) with a love of athleticism and the outdoors – he loved cold baths in streams – so much so that his approach gave rise to the popular term ‘muscular Christianity’. So it’s not surprising that The Water-Babies – with its ramblings, enthusiasms, sensibilities, love of nature, empathy, wide reading, poetry and humour – perfectly reflects the man. Kingsley’s novel antedated the first Alice book by a couple of years and anticipated many of the features that are normally associated with Lewis Carroll’s two children’s classics, as many a commentator has noted before now. References to a lobster, Cheshire cat and March hare occur in both, for example, but the Cheshire Cat wasn’t in Carroll’s original 1862-3 draft for Alice Liddell. There is little room here to note other parallels in detail – both authors were called Charles, were clergymen (though Carroll was only a deacon), suffered from stammers, were passable artists and were feted by royalty, for instance – but as only one of these classics has remained in the popular consciousness one has to assume that Kingsley’s moralising asides haven’t gone down well with subsequent generations. Compared with the handsome Victorian line illustrations of Linley Sambourne the later sentimental illustrations of Mabel Lucie Attwell and her ilk have not served the fortunes of the story well either. It’s a shame, as for all his contradictions Kingsley comes across in this novel as both a sympathetic figure and a very modern writer. The last chapter includes a critique of Victorian examination-led schooling which is sadly applicable to contemporary fears of a cramming culture in UK state education. Much of his prose hymn to Nature in The Water-Babies has a Green tinge not out of place in debates about biodiversity and climate change. And his dispassionate description of the conditions climbing boys suffered led directly to a law banning the practice, a parallel to present-day concerns about child abuse and moves towards more effective child protection. It’s impossible to do justice to this captivating fairy tale in a short review. But 150 years after its publication The Water-Babies is surely due a reassessment and a new appreciation of its messages and beauties. Maybe I need to dig out and update those old notes of mine and attempt a proper answer to Kingsley’s riddle. http://wp.me/s2oNj1-wb

  30. 4 out of 5

    Smitha Murthy

    How does this book get classified as Children's Literature? The children of Kingsley's time must have been so erudite with a wonderful vocabulary! 'The Water Babies' is a quaint fairy tale, brimming with morals, and a fair bit of adventure. It is also a wonderful ode to Nature. I confess that I had no idea of half the things that Kingsley mentioned - I do not think he intended those in India to be reading this book! The English landscape is far different from my own! Bear in mind that while you How does this book get classified as Children's Literature? The children of Kingsley's time must have been so erudite with a wonderful vocabulary! 'The Water Babies' is a quaint fairy tale, brimming with morals, and a fair bit of adventure. It is also a wonderful ode to Nature. I confess that I had no idea of half the things that Kingsley mentioned - I do not think he intended those in India to be reading this book! The English landscape is far different from my own! Bear in mind that while you can consider this is a cute tale, the book dropped out of popularity to its derogatory references to the Irish, the Jews, and Americans. Kinsgley also uses large sections of the book as satire and as a lament against the changes he perceived then in society. Read this then as an adult with the awareness of its context with a child's awe and wonder at the world.

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