Jane J Lee
An examination of books that form a part of the imaginative experience of children, as well as a part of a larger literary heritage, viewed in the light of their social, psychological, political, and moral implications.
Romantic to Victorian Conceptions of Childhood
The issue of how to define a child, and how to educate one, became widespread questions in the eighteenth through to the nineteenth century as mass education became more of a possibility, and as the Victorians inherited, then appropriated, the Romantic conception of childhood, with its investment in innocence and spirituality. This course will explore the ways in which literature for children developed intersectionally in nineteenth-century England with social movements, articulations of morality, definitions of growth and personhood, approaches to didacticism, evolving ideas of religion, science, and technology, as well as institutional developments in and theoretical approaches to education. As such, we will read our works with historical contexts and social questions in mind, while also asking what, precisely, these texts teach, in order to consider how and why specific notions attached to children may have emerged, and even persisted.
Our course readings will begin with some historical background as well as important criticism addressing the theorization of the modern child, including pieces on Romantic education and Continental attitudes towards children. We will also be reading about the emergence of children’s literature as a genre, focusing on its proliferation in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and the shifts which occur in its content, address, and aims throughout. In addition to the books listed below, we will also be looking at poetry by Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, Wordsworth, and others.
Required Texts: Kingsley, Charles. The Water Babies: A Fairy-Tale for a Land Baby. 1863. (Broadview: 978-1551117737) Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 1865. (Norton: 978-0393958041) Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. 1883. (Broadview: 978-1551114095) Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. 1905. (Penguin: 978-0142437018) Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty. 1877. (Oxford: 978-0199608522)
Student learning goals
Analyze children's literature from a critical perspective.
Understand the relationship between the production of literature and the context from which it is produced.
Have a better sense of nineteenth-century literature and culture.
Build an appreciation for nineteenth-century children's literature as a distinctive genre.
General method of instruction
Because this course is an examination of a context-specific genre, some familiarity with nineteenth-century literature, history, and/or culture, as well as experience with close reading, are strongly recommended.
Class assignments and grading
Requirements include a sizable reading load, research presentation, 2-3 short papers, and a final exam. Significant and engaged participation is a required component for successful evaluation.