Academic journal article French Forum

The World in a Drop of Water: Carraud's Science Literature for children.(Zulma Carraud)(Critical Essay)

Academic journal article French Forum

The World in a Drop of Water: Carraud's Science Literature for children.(Zulma Carraud)(Critical Essay)

Article excerpt

To see a World in a grain of sand, 
And a Heaven in a wild flower 
William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence" 

An old woman leans against a windowsill and guides her granddaughter in the study of a fly and its life cycle. A father teaches his children to examine wasps and waterflowers. These illustrations come from Zulma Carraud's Les Metamorphoses d'une goutte d'eau (1864), a collection of stories that focus on various aspects of nature study. (1) Published by Hachette in La Bibliotheque rose illustree, a collection aimed at readers from eight to fourteen, the text presents concepts of metamorphosis and the conservation of matter, describes asexualized life cycles of insects and animals, and models the use of dialogue and a hands-on method of instruction for children. The stories and the etchings that support them depict a kind of "familiar" or "familial" scientific study common in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which engaged children in close observation of accessible natural phenomenon. Based greatly on the pedagogical theories of Rousseau, such study promoted observation, reasoning and an awarene ss of the practical uses of natural products to better human life. Women played a significant role in this popularizing of knowledge for other women and children although they were excluded from the increasing professionalism of scientific research. (2)

Carraud's work draws from the pedagogical principles of the age, yet in her stories much more is being taught than knowledge or even skills and habits of observation. If one can see that the family is used to present scientific information in an appealing and accessible manner, so one can also argue that an interest in science is being used to reinforce the image of the nuclear family and to teach societal values, including gender and class roles. Despite the avowed apolitical nature of the collection in which this book appeared, Les Metamorphoses becomes a vehicle for moral, social, and political values. (3) This study examines Les Metamorphoses for the conventional patterns and messages of nineteenth-century French science writing for children, but it will also discuss those dissonant elements that imply, if they do not voice, dissatisfaction with Second-Empire France and its culture. Through this I hope to bring insight into the complexity of seemingly straightforward children's literature and the challeng e to a woman writer in the ambivalent role of one who can identify in part with children as disenfranchised and yet who has chosen to help guide them to participation in a limited and limiting social order.

This study will begin by briefly placing Carraud's work in the context of other scientific publications for children, highlighting its place in pedagogical practice and the concepts of science that were currently accepted as appropriate to communicate to children. I will then examine the non-scientific content of the tales, the social, political, and moral messages that are implicit and explicit in the work. The study will conclude with some thoughts on the choice of such a medium for the author as a woman in the nineteenth century.

Scientific Writing for Children

The story, "Les Guepes," second in the collection, can be taken as a model of a popular form of scientific writing for both children and adult amateurs, particularly women. Two children, playing outside, are attracted by some wasps and begin to watch their behavior. Returning to their home, they ask their father questions about the insects and are encouraged to observe them closely. The father later takes them on a walk which will permit more extended observation and even obtains an unoccupied nest in order to show them its structure through dissection: "M. Barrus eut beaucoup de peine couper ce nid pour en mieux voir la structure interieure" (85). These informal lessons model pedagogical concepts of the period and show a number of implicit assumptions about children's development, their education, and the family. …

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