chapter  3
44 Pages

INSTRUCTION AND AMUSEMENT: A New Literature for Children

As has been seen, critical works generally assert that the latter half of the eighteenth century marked the real beginnings of a literature for children as a discrete genre, adducing factors like the changes in the perception of the child as an individual, the inuence of the ideas of François Fénelon, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the widespread debate on education to explain the phenomenon. Yet relatively little detailed consideration is given to the actual works written with children in mind during the century. Many of the considerable number of books published have not survived subsequently in either the gurative or the literal sense, and those that have are frequently criticised as tedious, lacking in imagination, and overly didactic. Arguments adduced for dismissing these works as of little interest are that they tell us nothing about real children of the time; they are concerned only with repressive moral codes; they are repetitive and derivative; they are the product of pedagogues not creative writers.1 ese arguments are both debatable in themselves and obscure the value of these works as products of a particular social climate and worldview and as an important stage in a process of the development of a genre struggling to dene itself, to serve a number of dierent agenda, and to please a variety of readers. Books written for children in the eighteenth century are, in fact, of considerable interest not only in themselves but as part of an emerging genre that sought to be innovative and at the same time appropriated and adapted existing types of narrative in a variety of ways. French children’s literature did not develop in isolation from adult literature, nor from the literature of other European

countries. Arguably, the cosmopolitanism of children’s books in the eighteenth century was as great as that of adult books. A two-way inuence between France and England, in particular, in terms of both views on education and translations and imitations of books for children, was of fundamental signicance in the development of the genre in both countries. is chapter, and chapters 4 and 5, will consider the main factors aecting the growth of a literature for children driven by the dual imperatives of instruction and amusement and explore the validity of the arguments alluded to above. A detailed examination of a number of texts will reveal a not inconsiderable degree of diversity and innovation in the approach to writing for the young that has, in eect, been obscured in most discussions of this period.