Orphans in Fiction

23. August, 2016UncategorizedNo comments

Oliver Twist


This is a compelling article written by Professor John Mullan about orphans in 19th century fiction.

John Mullan is Professor of English at University College London. John is a specialist in 18th-century literature and is at present writing the volume of the Oxford English Literary History that will cover the period from 1709 to 1784. He also has research interests in the 19th century, and in 2012 published his book What Matters in Jane Austen?

Childhood and children’s literature, The novel  1832 – 1880

Why do orphans appear so frequently in 19th-century fiction?

Professor John Mullan reflects on the opportunities they provide for authors, considering some of the most famous examples of the period.

“It is no accident that the most famous character in recent fiction – Harry Potter – is an orphan. The child wizard’s adventures are premised on the death of his parents and the responsibilities that he must therefore assume. If we look to classic children’s fiction we find a host of orphans. The child heroine of one of the earliest popular children’s stories, Little Goody Two-Shoes, (published by John Newbery in 1765) was an orphan. Protagonists of The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer, and Ballet Shoes, to name a few, are also orphans. Their stories can begin because they find themselves without parents, unleashed to discover the world. Thus Orphan Annie (the good-hearted and resilient child heroine first of a hugely popular comic strip in the USA, then of a radio show, film and musical) wanders through a sometimes wicked world, revealing the qualities of others, herself untainted by folly or corruption.

The orphan is above all a character out of place, forced to make his or her own home in the world. The novel itself grew up as a genre representing the efforts of an ordinary individual to navigate his or her way through the trials of life. The orphan is therefore an essentially novelistic character, set loose from established conventions to face a world of endless possibilities (and dangers). The orphan leads the reader through a maze of experiences, encountering life’s threats and grasping its opportunities. Being the focus of the story’s interest, he or she is a naïve mirror to the qualities of others. In children’s fiction, of course, the orphan will eventually find the happiness to compensate for being deprived of parents. Dickens’s Oliver Twist, who remains virtuous and innocent despite the criminal company he keeps, is comparable with these characters from children’s fiction. Like many of them, he discovers inherited affluence, but along the way reveals to the reader the secrets of London’s criminal underbelly.

Vulnerability and the governess

Any author interested in the vulnerability of children is likely to think of orphans. Miles and Flora in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw are the prey of malign spirits because they have no parents, only a permanently absent guardian. Their governess, the novella’s main narrator, knows she is their only saviour. Ironically, being a governess is commonly the occupation of orphans in 19th-century novels. An early example is Jane Fairfax in Jane Austen’s Emma, who, as an orphan, is entirely dependent on the kindness of others. She survives as the live-in companion to a close (and affluent) friend, but when that friend marries she must look for another way of sustaining herself. When her secret engagement to Frank Churchill collapses, it appears that she will have to become a governess. She calls this occupation a kind of slavery.

The governess is another recurring literary motif. Like the orphan, she is betwixt and between, superior to any servant, yet not a member of the family. In novels, the job naturally belongs to an orphan, who has no certain class identity. The most notorious anti-heroine of Victorian fiction, Becky Sharp in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, is an orphan who becomes a governess – though in her case the job is the first rung on her climb up through society. Like other literary orphans who become governesses, she is more educated and accomplished than those who employ her. The alluring governess Lucy Graham in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Victorian bestseller Lady Audley’s Secret is inevitably an orphan, as was Miss Wade, the sinister governess in Dickens’s Little Dorrit.


Life as a governess is the fate of Victorian fiction’s most famous female orphan, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Like many orphans of the time, Jane, whose parents died when she was very young, has been taken in by relatives. Pip in Great Expectations and Esther Summerson in Bleak House are similarly adopted by resentful and punitive relations. In Britain adoption was legally unregulated until the 1920s, so was easy and commonly informal. In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, the abandoned Eppie, whose mother dies at Silas’s door, is adopted by the solitary miser without any objection from the parish authorities. In Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, the young orphan Jude Fawley is taken in by his great-aunt. ‘It would ha’ been a blessing if Goddy-mighty had took thee too, wi’ thy mother and father, poor useless boy!’ she declares. Coming from a woman who likes to quote the Book of Job and ‘spoke tragically on the most trivial subject’, this seems comic, but to Jude it will later feel like prescience (ch. 2)


Jane Eyre is barely cared for by her unloving aunt, and is tormented by her cousins. She is then packed off to the appalling Lowood School, where most of the pupils are similarly abandoned. When she arrives she meets her fellow pupil Helen Burns, who tells her that ‘all the girls here have lost either one or both parents, and this is called an institution for educating orphans’ (ch. 5). Jane dubs the institution ‘the Orphan Asylum’, using a term that was common in the mid-19th century for institutions founded, like Lowood, by philanthropic donation and maintained by charitable donations. Mr. Brocklehurst, the self-proclaimed Christian who rules over the school, is malign and, as an orphan, Jane has only her own spirit with which to defend herself. Parentless protagonists like Jane and Jude are frighteningly vulnerable to prejudice and cruelty.

On her own in the world, Jane is eventually compelled to be a governess. Lucy Snowe, the heroine and narrator of Brontë’s final novel, Villette, also appears to be an orphan (though she is notoriously evasive about the particulars of her early life). She is forced to survive first of all as paid ‘companion’ to a cantankerous old lady, and then as a junior teacher in a girls’ school in Villette (a fictional version of Brussels). ‘I suppose you are nobody’s daughter’, comments her spoilt pupil Ginevra – and she is right (ch. 14). Brontë’s extraordinary explorations of female self-consciousness, featuring heroines who sometimes shocked contemporaries with their defiance and self-reliance, required her to orphan those heroines.

Even the fates of Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe seem less cruel than that of Dickens’s Oliver Twist. His unmarried mother dies immediately after giving birth to him in the parish workhouse, where, parentless, he must stay. The institution, maintained by local rates, is for the poor and destitute, but is the inevitable destination for orphans unfortunate enough not to have relations to adopt them. In the second chapter of the novel, Dickens reflects with savage facetiousness on the mortality rate among orphaned infants doomed to this fate.


Dickens’s orphans

Dickens’s interest in orphans is almost obsessive. As well as Oliver Twist and Pip we have Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield, Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities and Sloppy in Our Mutual Friend, among many others. Bleak House has a whole caste of orphans: not just Esther, the heroine, but also Richard Carstone, Ada Clare, his cousin, and Jo the crossing sweeper. Through these characters Dickens explores both heroic self-fashioning and feelings of abandonment, often combined. While Esther triumphs because of her inner resources – despite the baleful predictions of the ‘godmother’ (in fact her aunt) who brings her up – Richard, rudderless and self-deceiving, perishes. In the impoverished Jo, Dickens presents a sentimentalised version of the more likely condition of an orphan in the 19th century: a child abandoned to poverty, illiteracy and disease, whose premature death is inevitable.

Orphans have a special place in the history of the novel, especially in the 19th century. There is a real social history behind these fictional orphans. But orphaning your main characters was also fictionally useful – a means by which they were made to find their way in the world.”

Written by  John Mullan

See more at: http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/orphans-in-fiction#sthash.dTkMHmFH.dpuf  

Evaluating Your Child’s Health When Arriving Home

15. August, 2016UncategorizedNo comments

Healthy baby

CONGRATULATIONS! You have adopted a child- now it is time to make sure that you help your child have a healthy future.

Children who are adopted internationally are at risk for diseases related to their living conditions. It is important for your child to have a complete medical examination soon after arriving in the United States. You may choose to use your family pediatrician or a doctor specialized in adoption medicine.

If you adopt a special needs child, there may be the necessity of having your child cared for by one or more specialists. A great place to start is the primary healthcare medical visit and then you can go from there.

To prepare for the first medical visit, make sure you bring all of the child’s medical records with you. You will need to communicate all pertinent medical history with your child’s doctor. Additionally, it is important to review immunization records. Most vaccines may need to be repeated in case the vaccines were incorrectly stored. Your child’s doctor may order blood testing to determine what immunity your child has, and vaccinate as needed.

Order the recommended tests. This may include testing for anemia and lead; developmental, vision and hearing screening; dental and mental health examination. You will be ensuring that this journey with your child will be a healthy one by working closely with his/ her doctor.

Enjoy your new child! And again, best wishes for a healthy and happy future together.



Taiwan’s Orphans

8. August, 2016UncategorizedNo comments


Taiwan Orphan

Our experience of orphanage conditions in Taiwan has been very good. Babies often stay in the orphanage until the age of two, after which they try to provide government based foster families. That way a child will have the experience of adjustment in a normal family unit instead of an institution. For special needs children they try to provide early treatment to ensure the child has the best chance possible to thrive.

According to The Department of State Website in regards to who can be adopted:

In addition to U.S. immigration requirements, Taiwan has specific requirements that a child must meet in order to be eligible for adoption:

  • Relinquishment:  Where the biological mother is alive and her whereabouts known, the Family Court will request a written, signed relinquishment document. 
  • Abandonment:  A legal determination of abandonment by a court is usually required.
  • Age of Adoptive Child:  An adoptive child must be at least 20 years younger than the adopted parent. If the adoptive parents are married, the child must be at least 20 years younger than one spouse and at least 16 years younger than the other spouse.
  • Sibling Adoptions:  None
  • Special Needs or Medical Conditions:  None
  • Waiting Period or Foster Care:  NoneIn addition, no child may be adopted who is:
    • directly related by blood to the prospective adoptive parents (for example: grandparents cannot adopt their grandchildren);
    • directly related by marriage, except in the adoption of the other spouse’s child as a stepchild (for example: A parent-in-law cannot adopt his/her son-in-law or daughter-in-law); or
    • indirectly related by blood or marriage, such as cousins (unless removed by a certain degree), the spouse of a sibling, or a sibling of your spouse.  (Note: Taiwan law is very detailed about what degree of indirect blood relation is excluded from adoption. If prospective adoptive parents are concerned about possible blood ties with the child they wish to adopt, they should contact AIT for clarification before proceeding with the adoption.)

    Caution:  Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that not all children in orphanages or children’s homes are adoptable.  In many countries, birth parents place their child(ren) temporarily in an orphanage or children’s home due to financial or other hardship, intending that the child return home when this becomes possible.  In such cases, the birth parent(s) have rarely relinquished their parental rights or consented to their child(ren)’s adoption.


For more information about adopting from Taiwan email us at intake@westsands.net or call us at 435-986-1617