Children of CRECS: Contesting Childhood in the Romantic Era, 7 Dec 2015

The study of childhood has long been crucial to interdisciplinary study of the Romantic period. Historians of the family have pinpointed the eighteenth century as crucial for the emergence of our modern understanding of the concept, from Philippe Ariés’ controversial claim that the very idea of childhood developed in Western Europe only around this time to Lawrence Stone’s equally fiercely contested account of the ‘closed domesticated nuclear family’. These arguments about broad social forces have been accompanied by a surge of critical interest in pioneering educational theory, particularly in the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and their resonance throughout political, scientific and literary discourses. Scores of novelists, poets and essayists absorbed these ideas, and a deep interest in the nature of childhood and education runs throughout the imaginative literature of the Romantic period . Writers such as Anna Barbauld and Maria Edgeworth wrote not only educational treatises but also innovative tales and poetry specifically marketed towards children. Novels by writers including Mary Hays and Walter Scott featured protagonists whose childhood reading fosters tragic flaws later in life. And Romantic poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Thelwall became deeply preoccupied with the potential of the cradle song to articulate the relationship between domestic, ‘private’ relations and political, ‘public’ concerns.

On the evening of Monday 7th December, come along to learn more about about how childhood permeated the textual culture of the Romantic era. Our two short papers share a particular focus on the politically and ethically dubious usages to which sentimental and philosophical notions about childhood could be put around the turn of the nineteenth century.

  • Dr Sophie Coulombeau, of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, will tackle the eighteenth-century craze for unorthodox child-rearing, focusing on the writer and campaigner Thomas Day’s project to educate a young orphan to become the perfect wife—most memorably portrayed in Maria Edgeworth’s novel Belinda (1801).
  • Dr. Holly Furneaux, also of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, will talk about the military man of feeling and the adoption plot in the nineteenth century.
  • We’ll then have time for more general discussion among participants, who might wish to think more generally about the importance of childhood, education and kinship in their own experience of Romantic texts.
  • The evening will finish with a drinks and snacks reception.

Join us on 7 December 2015, in Lecture Theatre 0.36 in the John Percival Building. The event will start at 5.15pm and will be followed by refreshments, as usual.

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