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The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

The Water-Babies (original 1863; edition 1950)

by Charles Kingsley

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2,798424,783 (3.32)164
The adventures of Tom, a sooty little chimney sweep with a great longing to be clean, who is stolen by fairies and turned into a water baby.
Title:The Water-Babies
Authors:Charles Kingsley
Info:Blackie and Son, London
Collections:Children’s Books, Your library
Tags:Children’s Fiction, Fantasy, Victorian, Moralising

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The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1863)


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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Have just re-read this, maybe for the first time since childhood (about 10?) It is much stranger than I remembered, and the second part, where Tom wanders about having impromptu and rather dull adventures/conversations, is not as good as the first. I can see that Kingsley genuinely wanted to improve the lot of chimney sweep children, and was trying to marry Darwin's theory of evolution with Christian ethics (evolution = moral improvement), but he is so bossy and hectoring and full of himself. Also quite cruel in some scenes, despite advocating kindness, and as for the racism.... !
This edition has Edward Linley Sambourne's rather scary and vivid illustrations from 1885 (not credited however).
  PollyMoore3 | Aug 18, 2023 |
  SueJBeard | Feb 14, 2023 |
Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
  fernandie | Sep 15, 2022 |
Short and interesting as a fairy tale but there is a lot to cringe about when the narrator talks about Irish and Scottish folks. There are also a lot of words, places, etc, that are either completely made up or beyond my knowledge. You are assumed to be English when reading this book and apparently a child too. Therefore, it's more a thing to study as to the time of Charles Kingsley than to read for pleasure. I can't imagine me understanding a thing when I was a child.
  jeshakespeare | Sep 10, 2022 |
"The most wonderful and the strongest of things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.'

First published in 1862 Reverend Charles Kingsley’s classic novel about a young chimney sweep who after falling into a river finds himself transformed in to an aquatic creature, a 'Water Baby'. The tale begins relatively realistically, and when Tom plunges into the water in becomes a mix of social and scientific satire.

This story is far more than a simple fairy tale, in parts it's a political tract. Kingsley was appalled by the plight of the young sweeps, condemned by their brutal masters to a life of misery and, often, early deaths, if not from falls then from lung disease or cancer. This book so horrified its readers, young and old alike, that it was instrumental in a new law reforming the working conditions of countless young boys forced to crawl up inside chimneys in order to clean them.

Initially written for Kingsley’s four-year-old son and published just three years after Darwin's ' On the Origin the Species', which shook Victorian Christian beliefs. Like Darwin, Kingsley took a keen interest in nature and science, some would even argue that this novel mirrors Darwin's theories on evolution, only in this case in the afterlife. Tom evolves due to education by his elders and experience. However, this is also a Christian parable that warns against the dangers of not being baptised in the Christian faith and the merits of treating others as you would want to be treated and the notion of eye for an eye.

This book is undoubtedly an important piece of social history but it's also an uncomfortable read. It's littered with archaic phrases and bloated sentences but most worryingly of all is the almost nonchalant use of sexist and racist (especially against the Irish) undertones throughout that simply would not be acceptable today. I personally would never recommend it being read to youngsters, hence the lowly mark. ( )
1 vote PilgrimJess | Mar 6, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
In parts political tract, scientific satire, Christian parable as well as children’s fantasy, it is a moving and uncomfortable book when read as child, and is even more unsettling when read as an adult. It emerged from a sense of social outrage, took on the big questions of belief and biology, and is eye-catching for a work by a 19th-century vicar in that reveals a world created and ruled not by gods, but by goddesses. Not only did it have a huge effect on young readers, it also helped to reform legislation that relieved the suffering of innumerable young people such as Tom, who had been forced to crawl inside chimneys to keep them clean.
added by KayCliff | editThe Guardian, Richard Cole (Jul 11, 2016)
His most famous work, The Water-Babies, is an odd book which is at once a children’s classic, a moral fable, a response to the theory of evolution, and a satire on Victorian attitudes to child labour and religion.
added by KayCliff | editInteresting Literature

» Add other authors (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Kingsleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Attwell, Mabel LucieIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beards, Richard D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fry, Rosalie K.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goble, WarwickIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Italiander, MikeIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnstone, Anne GrahameIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnstone, Anne GrahameIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnstone, Janet GrahameIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirk, Maria L.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacDonald, RobertaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mozley, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robinson, W. HeathIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sambourne, LinleyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarrant, Margaret W.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vihervaara, LyyliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wall Perné, Gust van deIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom.
No one has a right to say that no water-babies exist, till they have seen no water-babies existing.
And whither she went, thither she came.
It's so beautiful, it must be true!
If my story is not true, something better is.
Wise men know that their business is to examine what is, and not to settle what is not.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The adventures of Tom, a sooty little chimney sweep with a great longing to be clean, who is stolen by fairies and turned into a water baby.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Available online at The Hathi Trust:

Also available at The Internet Archive:

Also available at Project Gutenberg:
Haiku summary
Life after death? Yes!
Climbing-boy now wet infant,
somehow born-again.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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