chapter  4
44 Pages

These Are the Women Who Wrote the Books That Lived in the House That Ben Built

In Children’s Books in England, Darton uses “didactic” almost apologetically when he discusses the “delicate didactic art” of the author Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849). When he published his history in 1932, her books for children and adults were still in print, though in dwindling circulation, and as he diplomatically says, “possibly not read so widely or so often as they deserve.” Yet, of the early twentieth-century response to her books, he says that “when they are read, it is not for their purpose” (meaning their instructional or didactic purpose), but “because they are really good stories told in simple and delightful English, with frequent humour” (Darton 140, italics in the original). In the same vein, though less generously, writing in the 1960s, John Rowe Townsend portrays Edgeworth patronizingly as “the author of many determinedly didactic stories for children and young people-often with a utilitarian emphasis which clearly derives from Rousseau” (Townsend 27). Edgeworth is not the only late Enlightenment woman writing for children I’m going to discuss in this chapter, but I wanted to convey at the outset how explicitly the adjective “didactic” is yoked to her name and work, as it is to other women writing for children in the period. Darton’s chapter about these women is titled, “The Moral Tale: Didactic,” and this is also where he situates his account of Anna Barbauld.