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Children’s literature, the home, and the debate on public versus private education, c.1760-1845

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matthew Grenby



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


A new children's literature developed rapidly in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century. New kinds of books were published for the young, designed to entertain as well as to instruct. Textbooks also became more sophisticated, and sold in huge numbers so that their copyrights were among the most valuable in the book trade. What has not been fully understood is how the rapid expansion of the children's book market fits into the debate taking place at the same time about the relative merits of public schooling and home education. Were these books, whether imaginative literature, textbooks, or any of the various new hybrid forms that emerged, sold chiefly to service the school market, or for consumption at home? Were separate products available for these two sets of consumers? And what do the children's books of the period themselves have to say about private and public education? In this essay I will investigate these questions. I will consider how school and domestic education are represented in the 'new' children's literature and whether either of these two modes is given preference. I will look at various kinds of evidence - both external and internal - to discover whether these books were designed specifically for use in schools or for use in the home. I will consider the evidence about their actual (as opposed to prescribed) usage. And I will consider what strategies the authors, illustrators and publishers of the new children's literature adopted specifically to suit home versus school education. In particular, I will develop two late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century case studies to explore these issues: the educationalist and children's author Maria Edgeworth, and the educationalist, children's author and children's publisher, William Godwin. Respectively Edgeworth and Godwin were enthusiasts for domestic and school education. Yet my initial conclusions are that the line separating the two pedagogic modes is far less clear than we might at first think. In some respects domestic and school education were two rival modes; in others they were understood as contiguous and complementary.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Grenby MO

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Oxford Review of Education

Year: 2015

Volume: 41

Issue: 4

Pages: 464-481

Online publication date: 01/07/2015

Acceptance date: 14/04/2014

Date deposited: 20/07/2015

ISSN (print): 0305-4985

ISSN (electronic): 1465-3915

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2015.1048115

Notes: Special issue editor Christina de Bellaigue


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