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The missing children

Where have all the families gone? Robert Winder wonders why great literature, which is supposed to address universal truths, ignores children, parenthood and family life. But this may be changing. Writers no longer consider it beneath them to write about parenthood

By Robert Winder   May 1998

Pet theories are untrustworthy, but I have long nursed one. Where on earth, in the history of the novel, have all the children gone? The truth-and it is an overlooked one-is this: they hardly exist. A couple of notable heroines-Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary-are also mothers, but their offspring are not significant characters; we do not see their parents coping with them on anything other than a picturesque level. Indeed, children function as little more than sentimental props: upping the stakes when adultery comes galloping into their homes, they are left in the lurch when their mothers decide to pursue…

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