Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Imagining the child

The fascination with childhood and a desire to recapture an innocent apprehension of the world are key features in any definition of Romanticism. It is often claimed that the image of the romantic child has been a key point of reference for the birth of children's literature since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Myers (1992) states, for instance, that 'the Romantic child is our foundational fiction' (cited in Plotz 2001:45).

It is the idealised relationship between adult author and child reader, formed out of the Romantic aesthetic, which serves as a model for subsequent writing for children in English. All children's literature, since its inception, engages in some way with this relationship, whether as a celebration of it, or in terms of its impossibility. The authors discussed in more detail in this study are particularly interesting because they consciously address the inequality at the heart of the adult author/child reader relationship.

The emphasis placed on the unsullied freshness of childhood, during a period of great change, must be seen as a key factor in the creation of a literature that directly addressed children as audience, through a direct appeal to the imagination. Whether inspired by Wordsworthian notions of the babe, 'trailing clouds of glory', or Ralph Waldo Emerson's view of children as models of a transcendental response to American society, the idea of the child is central to any culture's conception of itself.

The idea of the child constructed during this period cannot be separated from the continual adult questioning and contemplation of the relationship between the individual and society and with God. At the same time, children, both collectively and as individuals, were at the centre of more pragmatic debates about education and the inculcation of moral values. The views of many thinkers of

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