Chapter 1 ‘Very Naughty Doctrines’: Children, Children’s Literature, Politics and the French Revolution Crisis M. O. Grenby, Newcastle University 15
Chapter 1 ‘Very Naughty Doctrines’: Children, Children’s Literature, Politics and the French Revolution Crisis M. O. Grenby The presence of politics in the books published for children in the second half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and especially during the crisis that gripped Britain in the wake of the French Revolution, has histori- cally received less critical attention than the notion of politics in books written for an adult audience. However, politics is a broad term, and using its most general sense it can certainly be argued that the ‘new’ children’s literature of this period was generically political. In particular, some critics have claimed that it consistently pushed progressive, bourgeois values—industriousness, productivity, individuality, self-reliance—and in doing so laid down a chal- lenge to the existing social hierarchy, in which status and power were routinely inherited rather than earned.1 Others have suggested that this new children’s literature could be regarded as fundamentally subversive, destabilising existing hierarchies by giving its readers a sense of empowerment. It might inflame the ambitions of the young who, ‘like women and members of the lower classes’, as William St. Clair puts it, ‘needed to be protected against the notion that they had choices.’2 In this essay, however, politics will be more narrowly defined. The aim here is to consider the ways in which children’s literature engaged directly, deliberately and explicitly with political debates, possibly even as propaganda. It has long been recognised that some specific political causes were frequently discussed in children’s...
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