Location:Home > news > A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Children's Literature in the Long 18th Century

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Children's Literature in the Long 18th Century

Time:2016-11-20 19:49Shoes websites Click:

long Literature Gilflurt Garden Covent

Children's Literature in the Long 18th Century

It's always a pleasure to welcome my fine friend, Joana Starnes, to the salon and today she returns to discuss children's literature in the long 18th century! Lave a comment to be in with a chance of winning an ebook copy of Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter!


“Getting to know you is getting to love you – 

What would Elizabeth and Mr Darcy have read as children?”

Thank you, Catherine, for welcoming me here today on the blog tour for my latest Pride and Prejudice variation. 

Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is an early-marriage scenario where adverse circumstances compel Elizabeth to accept Mr Darcy’s hand long before she fell in love with him. A reckless choice to the modern woman – yet an eminently prudent one for a Georgian young lady with neither fortune nor connection. But I will not expand on Georgian mores, not here – you do it so much better than I ever will!

Instead, please let me share what I discovered while I was looking into the number of things those timeless characters might have discovered they had in common. It might well be a cliché that Elizabeth and Mr Darcy would talk of books. Setting aside the fact that she refused to discuss reading matter with him at the Netherfield ball, two people with such fondness for the printed word would eventually come to share the pleasure found in old favourites. To me, it was one of the steps towards learning more about each other, while a marriage of convenience and unequal affections grew into a union of all-abiding love.

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Children's Literature in the Long 18th Century

(Photo BBC)

What is more touching than childhood memories, and what greater proof of trust than the willingness to share them? In Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter Elizabeth and Mr Darcy share recollections of pilfering treats from the pantry and picnicking on the carpet – he with his closest cousin, she with her dearest sister – of romps and mischief, and also of quiet times with books. For Mr Bennet’s favourite daughter and a young boy brought up within reach of the extensive library at Pemberley, books would have doubtlessly held a significant place in their childhood. But what children’s books were available at the time?

Surprisingly many, I discovered as I delved – just online, sadly – into that treasure trove that is the British Library. A wealth of information is available in this article, where Professor M O Grenby “charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.”

I must admit that the attention given to the entertainment element was a great surprise to me. In many early 18th century sources I have found how children were expected to behave like mini-adults (indeed, boys were dressed as mini-adults from the day they were breeched), and while Rousseau and Locke inspired a more liberal attitude to child education for a while, the Victorians came to slow down the process, enforce ‘seen but not heard’ edicts and enshrine the moralising rhyme, the learning by rote and the ubiquitous cane as primary educational tools.

Of course, the cane was an inescapable part of a child’s education until astoundingly recent times, and the Georgians would not have had many scruples about wielding it either. Yet, to my surprise, I discovered that their children were not expected to amuse themselves with some condensed version of Gibbon’s History of the Roman Empire, nor solely with James Janeway’s ‘Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children’ .

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Children's Literature in the Long 18th Century

(A Token for Children, 1709 edition; first published around 1672 – British Library)

Beautifully illustrated spelling books have survived from Queen Anne’s time, and if the modern eye is rather surprised to find that ‘Cherries are pleasant Fruit for Youth to eat’ in roughly the same place in the book as directions for spelling a-po-cry-pha, well, at least those youngsters must have had a rich vocabulary.

Copyright infringement? Click Here!

Related reading
Related recommend