Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

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

Chapter 2

John Ruskin'sThe King ofthe Golden Riverand Romanticism

John Ruskin's King of the Golden River (Wilmer 1997) employs the form of a fairy tale to interrogate the interrelationship between notions of political economy and morality through the philosophical position of Romanticism. There is also a correlation between Ruskin's personal experiences and his fairy tale.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an influential nineteenth-century art critic and social philosopher. The King of the Golden River was his only piece for children, and was written as a gift for the thirteen year old Effie Gray, who was later to become his wife. Thus he was consciously writing to a child reader. The tale was written in 1841 on his return from a European tour; however, Ruskin did not publish it because he considered it unimportant. His father decided to publish the tale in 1850, a fortuitous decision on his part. The work proved successful, and was popular throughout the nineteenth century. It is important in literary terms because it is regarded as theone of the first English literary fairy tales. From a contemporary reading, it is clear that the ideas Ruskin was to develop in his later political and philosophical work are contained in cameo in The King of the Golden River.

The literary qualities clearly reflect the perspective of Romanticism: for example, the importance of nature; the relationship between the characters and their surroundings; the moral oppositions of the socially constructed landscape and the natural landscape and seeking the sublime experience through nature. The work also reflects a political awareness. Childhood is perceived as a site of innocence, where the child learns by experience. The imagination is of central importance, and is a place where other worlds are made outside the constraints of the real.

Romantic writers had particularly supported fairy tales as being important to childhood reading, at a time when other writers

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