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The Water-Babies  By  cover art

The Water-Babies

By: Charles Kingsley
Narrated by: Simon Vance
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Publisher's Summary

A classic since its first publication in 1863, The Water-Babies is the story of a little chimney sweep named Tom and his magical adventures beneath the waves. The ill-treated Tom flees his dangerous toil and his cruel master, Grimes. When he jumps into a cool stream to clean the soot off himself, he becomes a water-baby, cleaner and happier than he has ever been, in a hidden fairy world. There, Tom meets haughty dragonflies, makes friends with a slow-witted lobster, and dodges hungry otters. Eventually, he meets the other water-babies and their clever rulers, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere, young Tom achieves his heart’s desire.

Public Domain (P)1998 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Everyone who has an interest in the exuberant, eclectic, ecological, and erotic aspects of Victorian literature should know this book…[A] delightful and important work of Victorian children’s literature.” (Naomi Wood, Associate Professor of English, Kansas State University)

What listeners say about The Water-Babies

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Moral Evolution in a Strange Delightful Fairy Tale

In The Water-Babies (1863) by Charles Kingsley, poor little Tom is an orphaned chimney sweep who knows nothing of Jesus and prayers or of bees and honey, who is black all over with dirt and soot, and whose master Grimes is a selfish and brutal man. But everything changes for Tom when he meets a mysterious barefoot Irish washerwoman who says, "Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be." When Tom, repeating, "I must be clean, I must be clean," tumbles into a clear stream, the major fantastic "fairy tale" movement of the novel begins. Transformed by fairies into a tiny water-baby (3.87902 inches long!), he embarks on a series of adventures that give him a moral education and matching physical metamorphoses. While at first his experiences involve encounters with natural creatures (like caddis flies, dragonflies, trout, and lobsters), which Kinglsey depicts with both 19th century scientific accuracy and fantastic moral imagination, they become more allegorical and satirical the farther Tom goes, as when, for example, he visits Gulliver's Laputa.

Simon Vance gives his usual accurate, clear, and appealing reading, and I really liked his cockney (?) Tom, though there are a couple places where he repeats lines, and one moment of static.

The Water-Babies is a strange book. I can't imagine today's children being able to enjoy much of it. It has difficult vocabulary, quotations from great writers, references to Greek mythology and famous scientists, paradoxical concepts about reality, truth, and imagination, repeated addresses to the male reader ("my little man"), and satires of Victorian education, fashion, science, poverty, and class. And the novel is intensely moral, at times didactically so, closer in spirit to the work of George MacDonald than to that of Lewis Carroll. Perhaps children would not respond to Kingsley's message that to become a good adult, we must learn to do what we do not like, as in helping a person who has harmed us, and to avoid doing what we like, or else we will be beasts. And I dislike his message that our souls make our bodies.

And yet a love for language and for the world and all its creatures shines through the novel, by turns humorously, beautifully, or movingly. Although he was an Anglican priest, Kingsley does not overtly push his Christianity and rather shares his enthusiasm for evolution (applied moralistically to shape how species and individuals change according to their souls and actions). And he wants parents and educators to respect children and wants children to treat everything with curiosity and kindness.

If you're interested in Victorian children's literature, you should listen to The Water-Babies. But be prepared to rewind a lot or, once you finish, to listen to it again or to read the free online text. It's unique and worth the effort.

3 people found this helpful

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One Lesson for old and and one for the young

How wise Kingsley was; you could not hear him in The Water Babies and not see this for yourself. From my perspective at least, Water Babies is not your children’s lesson in the evils of human nature alone. It is wonderfully written by a wise and old soul with a warning lesson and story for the young and a second lesson for parents and adults. The young will hear in it the warning of challenges ahead for them in a sad and ugly world. But the grown will hear in it the warning story meant for them of the wrongs in the world their selfish actions have already forged. Kingsley shows proof of being a man ahead of his time in his sly hints of a politic and humanitarian nature.
It is as engaging for an adult as it is for a child and should be a must read. “But will you believe me?” 😏

The narrator, Simon Vance, nothing more I can state there that hasn’t been said of him by thousands of other posters. He is amazing, well read and well spoken. Seems to me when you hear him that he finds a little piece of him in every story he chooses to take on the reading of.

Have ‘read 100’s of books on audible and enjoyed 99.99% of them but haven’t till now felt compelled to write a review. I hope I convince least one person young or old to read or listen to Water Babies.

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Old-Timey Childrens Story Brilliantly Narrated

A good 75 years ago I was given this book. My mother loved the illustrations and the story. I just did not get any of it, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I kept quiet. This time around, with Simon Vance reading wonderfully, oh yes, it's good. Lots of sardonic social commentary and British fun. And a happy ending! But no wonder I was impatient and squirming!

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Must Read for all Children (& their Adults)

"Be good, sweet maid, & let who will be clever; do noble things, not dream them, all day long: & so make life, death, & that vast for-ever
One grand, sweet song." Charles Kingsley

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  • K Walts
  • 04-28-22

So many childhood memories

Ahhhhh listening to this bought back so many childhood memories!!! I want to listen to the tv adapted version now.

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  • ROSALIND BUCK
  • 09-24-21

Good story but with a few bits of antique racism

Editing us a bit sloppy but if you can allow yourself to overlook a few instances of casual racism the intentions of the story are good.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-22-22

weird!

I enjoyed this but found it a bit weird!

My best bit was when he stole the sweeties from the water fairy.

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  • Miss S Clarke
  • 09-15-22

Nothing really happens in the story!

I found the book blended into the background. nothing much really happens and there isn't really much character development.

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  • Amazon customer
  • 09-03-22

As relevant today as when it was written

Excellent narration, wonderful story. All adults should read this and look to their own behaviour.

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  • E. Weston
  • 06-29-22

Water baby boy

There is far more to this book than I recall and it must be 50 years since I did! I really enjoyed listening to it and recalling the beginning up to the change itself…but beyond I had totally forgotten! Did I read that far? I have no idea. It’s a bit long for the very young, I’d say below 10. But it evokes some deep thinking if you’ve a mind to it.

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  • Rebecca
  • 05-21-22

Beautiful reading - loved the accents!

I've always wanted to read/listen to this after being mesmorised as a child by the film version, starring Bernard Cribbins. This is very different from that, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I like its mix of serious/not serious/supernatural/scientific/moral/social protest/satire, and the underlying humour.