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Tales of Castle and Cottage: Mme de Genlis and women writers for children in the Romantic period.

  1. Although the views of male educational theorists (Locke, Fénelon and Rousseau) dominated the debate about education in the eighteenth century in France as in England, it was, with some notable exceptions, women writers who wrote books for children themselves. In the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries, when children's literature was developing as a genre seeking to define itself and to expand its horizons, a large number of women writers in France and England who had considerable experience of educating and observing young children either as teachers or as mothers, became the main mediators of contemporary pedagogical ideas in books for the young. The influence of Rousseau's Emile, ou de l'éducation (1762) in England and the enthusiasm or horror with which it was greeted, have been well documented, but English writers were also acquainted with the most popular children's books emanating from France. Many of these were quickly translated and adapted, and, despite the widespread distrust and dislike of things French after 1792, affinities can be detected in English children's books that suggest a significant cultural influence in this area until circa 1830. At the turn of the century, those French books for children which found most success in English translation were those that reflected pre-Revolutionary values and Enlightenment ideas and were untainted by Jacobinism or undesirable inflammatory notions. The two most widely read and influential French writers of this period were Arnaud Berquin, author of L'Ami des enfants (1782) and Mme de Genlis, author of Théâtre à l'usage des jeunes personnes (1779), Adèle et Théodore, Ou Lettres sur l'éducation (1782), and Les Veillées du château (1784). However, relatively little critical work has appeared in English on these writers or on the mutual influences and imitations their work spawned. [1] This paper explores the extent to which three very different English women writers of the period (Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Martha Sherwood) were inspired by, and drew upon, the work of their female contemporary, Mme de Genlis. These three were widely read and respected as authors of children's books (amongst other works) and, like Genlis, drew on eighteenth-century pedagogical theories, but they represent very different approaches to the mediation of moral and religious ideas to young readers. In this respect, they exemplify the two main approaches to writing for the young in this period, the rational and the Evangelical.
  2. Stéphanie-Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, Comtesse de Bruslart de Genlis and Marquise de Silléry (1746–1830), was the most versatile and prolific writer of books for the young as well as books on education at the end of the eighteenth century and the start of the next. A professional pedagogue, she was not only governess to the daughters of the duc and duchesse de Chartres, but, in 1782, was nominated to the post, unprecedented for a female, of "gouverneur" to their three sons as well. [2] She took the decision to leave court life and retire with the children to a specially constructed pavilion in the grounds of the convent of Belle-Chasse where she would have complete control of their education from an early age. At the little school, which also included her own daughters, her niece and nephew and two adopted English girls, the children were subjected to a varied, spartan and rigorously structured régime in which every moment of the day was occupied to good effect and every outing, meal or leisure activity was dedicated to the training of the mind, body and character.
  3. Although she refuted the suggestion that she raised the children "à la Jean-Jacques" and, indeed, became a self-confessed enemy of the "philosophes", the influence of Rousseau on her educational ideas and practice is evident. She discussed his theories repeatedly in her own works with a mixture of praise and disapproval and produced, in 1820, a revised version of Emile which suppressed what she deemed to be the more pernicious of his ideas and replaced them with her own. She approved of his preference for a secluded educational environment, his insistence on the need for constant supervision of the child, and the importance of understanding the individual child's temperament and capabilities. Like the English writers discussed here, she differed from Rousseau in crucial respects, however, as did other women writers in France in the latter part of the century. Even Mme d'Epinay, author of the popular Les Conversations d'Emilie (1774) and a close friend and admirer of Rousseau, found herself in fundamental disagreement with some of his views, in particular those relating to the education of girls. Mme Campan, too, a former lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette who founded a school for girls after the Revolution and who herself wrote an educational treatise entitled De l'éducation (1824) took issue with Rousseau on this score as well as on that of religion. Genlis's antagonism was inevitable given that her own standpoint was aristocratic, conservative and monarchist and she believed that Christian precept was the foundation of all morality and an essential base for education. In 1787, she published a work entitled La Religion considérée comme l'unique base du bonheur et la véritable philosophie (Religion considered as the only basis of happiness and the true philosophy) and, although religion is far more discreetly incorporated in her works for young readers than in those of some of her contemporaries, Christian values clearly underpin her moral outlook. Her pedagogical ethos is firmly grounded in discipline and guidance, arguing that the process of active learning should begin at an early age and that children should be instructed in morality with appropriate examples rather than allowed to "acquire" a sense of it through their experiences. Moreover, she affirmed the duty of parents to educate their children, privileging, in particular, the role of the mother, and also vehemently opposed Rousseau's views on the upbringing and education of girls. Unlike Rousseau, she does not eschew social interaction, asserting that society, like the individual, can be improved through education, and that, therefore, the duty of the teacher is to encourage altruism and social responsibility, which, even for the youngest child, can be translated into charitable acts.
  4. Her literary works manifest a consistent commitment to the carefully thought out, sophisticated and tightly controlled educational method that she implemented with her royal pupils. Her widely read and influential theoretical work, Adèle et Théodore, ou Lettres sur l'éducation (1782), translated into English in 1783 as Adelaide and Theodore: or Letters on Education, was, in its epistolary account of the education of two young children by their aristocratic parents in a country setting, to a large extent a reflection of her life at Belle-Chasse. Both Adèle et Théodore and Les Veillées du château (1784), her novel for young children, translated in 1785 by Thomas Holcroft as Tales of the Castle, are linked not only by a network of intertextual references but by a constant slippage between literature and lived experience. The basing of settings, relationships and episodes on reality ensures an unprecedented level, in books for children, of physical and psychological realism, and Tales of the Castle in particular, can be seen as the forerunner of the nineteenth-century domestic novel. The interplay between her pedagogical theories, her many years' experience in educating the young and observing the results of her experiments and the fictional representation of this experience for young readers, is what makes her work and her personal achievement, like that of her English counterparts discussed here, outstanding and unusual for the time.
  5. All these writers shared the belief, promoted by Locke and Rousseau, in the power of example and a concern about the child's exposure to bad influences, whether in life or in their reading. The key ways in which example is mediated to the fictional children in Genlis's works are through their experiences (often engineered by the parents), conversations and moral tales. The dangers of unsupervised reading are thematized in both Adèle et Théodore and Les Veillées du ch&acicrc;teau, but reading with an adult or the telling of tales are seen as potent strategies for inculcating moral and social precepts in the minds of the impressionable young. The Baronne d'Almane in Adèle et Théodore, aware of the dangers to children of unsupervised reading, not only writes short pieces for her daughter to read and repeat in their quiet evenings together, but, frustrated by the lack of appropriate children's books, writes her own little works and has them brought to the door by a pedlar. She thus acts as guardian of the texts and, without the children's knowledge, maintains total control over Adèle's access to reading matter. When the family are back in Paris, she also creates fake newspapers for the children, controlling the information they imbibe in a manner that, in a less irreproachable context, might be deemed an abuse of power. The identification of the Baronne with Mme de Genlis surfaces overtly in her views on children's books: the prescription that the Baronne gives for the ideal book (that it should be simply written, varied and instructive, preferably in the form of short tales) is followed by a recommendation of her own (and Genlis's) work, Les Veillées du château, which she is reading with her children.
  6. This format of Les Veillées du château, designed for children aged between ten and twelve, is that of a collection of moral tales within a framing narrative that amount to a course of moral instruction designed both to entertain and instruct. The title and structure of the work link it with the oral tradition of tales told around the fireside in the evening and with the literary tradition in books for adults (the Decamerone, the Arabian Nights' tales) of tales linked together by a narrative thread. Although the text is composed according to a strict methodology, structuring the narrative to fit her pedagogical principles, its innovative nature lies in the framing narrative, which portrays the life of an aristocratic family of three children with their mother, grandmother and a tutor, removed from Paris to a country château while their father is away in the army. (Thomas Holcroft's translation is a shade misleading, in that the "château" here is in fact a large country house, not a castle.) This narrative has its own internal development depicting education in progress, in which both characters and situations are more fleshed out than in traditional tales and contemporary didactic fiction like Lady Eleanor Fenn's Cobwebs to Catch Flies (1783) and The Fairy Spectator (1789) or John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Barbauld's Evenings at Home (1792–96). Although the portrayal of the children (who bear the same names as Genlis's own daughters, Pulchérie and Caroline, and her nephew, César) is still limited to the external viewpoint of the observing adult author, they are individualised enough to make for plausible and interesting interaction. They represent very positive role models for the reader in that they are lively, honest and good-hearted but they are not the traditional one-dimensional stereotypes and can also be scatterbrained, thoughtless and naughty. The focus of the text is the moral education of the children in which their formal intellectual training is subsumed. As well as implementing the Rousseauistic approach of keeping the children constantly occupied and profiting from every opportunity to extrapolate the moral significance of events in daily life, the mother, the marquise de Clémire, institutes a nightly routine of recounting a tale every evening before bedtime. A similar device was employed in the slim framing narrative of Aikin and Barbauld's Evenings at Home, in which a collection of instructive stories is kept in a box (the "budget") and selected for reading in the evenings, but a far more dynamic role is played by the tales in Genlis's text in that they both reflect and initiate daily experience and are used by the marquise as rewards or punishments. The privilege of participating is synonomous with the children's ability to obey and please her while the evening session is withheld or a child excluded for lapses of virtue which in turn serve as stimuli for a subsequent anecdote. The marquise is the chief narrator of the tales, and her control over their progress and the very act of narrating them reflects that of Genlis herself as author and confirms the promotion of the female role in education central to her works.
  7. The main charm of Tales of the Castle for child readers, according to the Baronne who recommends it in Adèle et Théodore, is that it is all true. This privileging of a realistic portrayal of the quotidian is, of course, a tenet firmly endorsed by our English writers, whose books were also best-sellers. Maria Edgeworth, in her preface to The Parent's Assistant (1796 and 1801) expresses overtly her preference for "only such situations as children can easily imagine, and which may consequently interest their feelings" and in Practical Education, we read that "the History of Realities written in an entertaining manner appears not only better suited to the purposes of education, but also more agreeable to young people than improbable fictions". [3] Like Genlis, the three English writers discussed in this paper sought to create child characters and situations with which their young readers could readily identify and sympathise, and thus enhance the likelihood of stimulating the desire to emulate them. For Genlis, this reality was a privileged, aristocratic lifestyle, and her concern is with teaching both morals and their social duty to her royal pupils and the children of the nobility. Herein lies a significant difference between her children's fiction and that of her contemporaries in England who focus on middle class families and settings, but nevertheless, they all share the preoccupation with social responsibility, individual effort and benevolent acts. Like Genlis, they were outspoken, authoritative female voices, and like her too, they sought to promote the role of woman as educator, responsible for the moulding of the society of the future. An important part of their project was to mediate their pedagogical ethos to children directly in a form that was not just accessible, but that would provide both instruction and amusement.
  8. My first case study is Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life: with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness (1788). [4] We know from her letters that Mary Wollstonecraft had read both Rousseau and Genlis while working as a governess in Ireland in 1786–87, and a number of passages from Genlis's works, including three scenes from one of her plays for children, L'Enfant gaté (The Spoilt Child) are included in The Female Reader (1789). Like Genlis, she endorsed many of Rousseau's pedagogical theories, but was also severely critical of his attitude towards the education of girls, attacking him at length in Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). "I have, probably, had an opportunity of observing more girls in their infancy than J.J.Rousseau," she states tartly. [5] Although different in social background, position, experience and temperament from Genlis, and despite her criticisms of the French woman's "worldly wisdom" and "unreasonable prejudices" in Vindication, she shared her belief in the power of education to inculcate reason and virtue in both sexes in order to develop independence of body and mind. [6] Genlis's view, cited in The Female Reader, that "the Faculty of thinking should be turned to the improvement of the heart and mind" is closely echoed by her own assertion in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) that "reason is indeed the heaven-lighted lamp in man". [7] 
  9. Original Stories portrays the close relationship between two young girls, Mary and Caroline, aged fourteen and twelve, with their tutor/guardian, Mrs Mason, who has sole charge of their education. She is responsible not just for improving their characters, but for eradicating the faults they have acquired through being neglected by their parents and brought up by servants. Wollstonecraft's choice of a surrogate mother figure in Mrs Mason to repair the damage done to the girls highlights her critical view of her contemporaries' parenting skills, articulated both here and in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and A Vindication. The basic scenario is similar to that in Thomas Day's The History of Sandford and Merton (1783–89), in which the unruly, arrogant and ignorant son of a gentleman planter is transformed by his country tutor and the example of a village boy, but a more illuminating comparison is with Tales of the Castle, for this is an essentially female domain, the removal of the father figure in both texts foregrounding the female influence. Both also offer a working methodology for a dual readership of parent and child and exploit everyday situations and activities and the domestic milieu in order to create a familiar and, hence, persuasive realism. Unlike Genlis's address to the upper echelons of her society, Original Stories reflects the social standing of the majority of the expected audience in locating the narrative in a genteel middle-class setting and the home, garden and immediate neighbourhood are projected as a safe microcosm of the world and a locus of learning. Wollstonecraft's depiction of Mrs Mason has been criticised as that of an unfeeling and despotic disciplinarian, but she is described as "a woman of tenderness and discernment" and clearly inspires affection in her pupils. [8] Caroline and Mary, (thought to be based on Wollstonecraft's own pupils, the Kingsborough girls), having lacked the advantage of an enlightened and caring mother, have more faults than Genlis's children and like them, are exposed to lessons on vices and virtues through their own experience, the example of others, and a number of edifying tales. Everyday experiences of the most trivial kind (rescuing an orphaned bird, not treading on a snail, not overeating) teach both positive lessons about compassion, modesty, benevolence and commonsense and negative lessons about greed, selfishness, cruelty, idleness, pride, vanity and improvidence. Common childhood events are manipulated in a similar way in both texts: Pulchérie is taken to task for fussing over pricking her finger on a rose and the English Caroline for crying over a wasp sting as a prompt for a lesson on fortitude. Mrs Mason guides the children by her own example in all things (from how to behave in a storm to how to conduct themselves in public) and, like Genlis, exploits the example of neighbours and visitors. The contrasting characters of Lady Sly and Mrs Trueman are conventional enough embodiments of desirable and undesirable attributes, but offer effective "real-life" alternative models of femininity for the impressionable girls. The exemplary tales that Mrs Mason recounts are not fables or contrived "fictional" narratives, but are, for the most part, the life histories of people known to the children or herself (the village schoolmistress who has overcome adversity and achieved independence, the impoverished sailor, Honest Jack, and his family, and Crazy Robin whose life has been dogged by tragedy), a strategy that adds to the texture of realism. Two of the tales, although portraying common themes in children's literature of the time, closely resemble narratives in Genlis's text. The story of Jane Fretful who dies prematurely, miserable and unlamented because of her constant rage and wilfulness echoes that of the spoilt Delphine, an extract from which was selected for The Female Reader, who is taught by a country girl to love reason and truth and finds physical and mental well-being. Another young woman, an unnamed acquaintance of Mrs Mason, and Genlis's Eglantine, both have their beauty ruined by smallpox and learn to develop other talents, winning lasting admiration for their intelligence, taste, and charm.
  10. A central concern in eighteenth and nineteenth-century children's literature was the question of charity and here the difference in class consciousness becomes most transparent. In Tales of the Castle, the prevailing attitude is essentially paternalistic, the deserving poor being enabled to help themselves by the supply of livestock, a farm or a pension by a wealthy patron. Mrs Mason's gifts are more modest but she is also a facilitator, who can persuade others to help in more substantial ways. Both texts stress the usefulness of individual endeavour, however, and the children derive great pleasure from bestowing gifts of their own making. Both also portray an essentially simplified and optimistic view of class relationships in which social roles are clearly defined. The poor are respected and rewarded for their humility, resignation, moral courage and efforts at self-help and are grateful for small gifts and attentions, never seeking to disrupt the status quo. Wollstonecraft, who had more experience of the world outside aristocratic circles than Genlis, also addresses wider concerns, introducing the plight of small shopkeepers, the tyranny of landlords, the prison system, the dangers of foreign trade and the pernicious consequences of debt. As in most contemporary texts, nonetheless, the function of the recipients of charity is that of a pedagogical tool, even though they are accorded a degree of individuality and humanity. Wollstonecraft shared Genlis's view of religion as the basis of all morality (her question "What is humanity without religion?" is cited in The Female Reader) and religious sentiment, in fact, plays a far more overt part in Original Stories than in Tales of the Castle, where piety is integrated with social virtues. [9] The recognition of God as the fount of all good is repeatedly urged by Wollstonecraft, as is His immanence in Nature, although Nature is seen in both texts as an essential stimulus for physical, moral and spiritual growth. The twin icons of pedagogy endorsed by Wollstonecraft and Genlis, reason and virtue, which reveal their allegiance to eighteenth-century ideology, are encapsulated in the highest praise that Mrs Mason bestows on her pupils: "You have done good this morning, you have acted like rational creatures." [10] 
  11. A similar agenda, underpinned by a more secular philosophy, appears in my second case study, the moral tales for children of Maria Edgeworth. We know that Edgeworth visited Genlis in Paris in 1803 and was not impressed by her worldliness and bitterness. [11] Genlis claimed not to have read Practical Education, but it was initially more popular in France than in Britain, due, according to Marilyn Butler, to the reactionary political climate in Britain which was not conducive to the positive reception of progressive works. [12] We know also that Edgeworth had begun, in 1782–83, under her father's direction, a translation of Adèle et Théodore which was abandoned when another translation was published and that she was reading Les Veillées du château in 1784. [13] A number of Genlis's pedagogical innovations, like the use of printed hangings and magic lanterns to teach history, are explicitly approved in Practical Education (1798). The concept of an experimental education in a domestic setting certainly appealed to the Edgeworths, and Maria's books for young readers bear the stamp of considerable personal experience of observation of children in a large family. [14] issuethreeHer stories were first read aloud to and discussed with her siblings and, like Genlis, she is conscious of gearing her work to the age of her readers. In both Early Lessons (1801) and The Parent's Assistant (1796 and 1801), the title of which suggests that the tales in this text might be read aloud to or with a child, she too employs the minutiae of daily life to impart a moral message. Like Genlis's fictional children in Tales of the Castle, her characters are active and energetic and are taught to be virtuous, industrious and rational. Although she deploys the traditional device of contrasting character types, they are far more rounded and interesting than in earlier didactic works. Her child protagonists are, as in most children's literature of the period, shown to be "tested" by circumstances and to reap the rewards of their courage and determinism, or of their indolence and lack of forethought. The chain of events in each tale is carefully structured to highlight causes and consequences. All the characters are portrayed sympathetically, their thoughts and feelings (good and bad) depicted to enhance the child reader's understanding. Familiar objects and sights are pressed into service in the dilemmas and disasters that beset them and the narrative insists on the importance of small efforts and acts of heroism within the capabilities of every child.
  12. Edgeworth's best-known young protagonist, the chatty, determined, stubborn and occasionally silly Rosamond ("one of the first real heroines in children's literature" according to Marilyn Butler), whose humiliation and disappointment in The Purple Jar encapsulates the rationalist pedagogic enterprise, has affinities with Genlis's Adèle, for both learn about thriftiness and economic priorities through the painful experience of broken shoes; while the mundane device of a thorn in the finger once again recalls the comparable episode in Tales of the Castle. [15] Arguably, Rosamond's mother, like Mrs Mason, is a more severely rational woman than either of Genlis's mother figures, but both feeling and rationality underpin their actions, just as the narrative strategies of the tales themselves have both a rational and affective power. Edgeworth's most interesting tales, however, are those in The Parent's Assistant that focus on poor and deprived children, like Simple Susan (the tale that allegedly made Sir Walter Scott weep), Lazy Lawrence and The Orphans. [16] In these "pastoral romances of childhood empowerment", [reference?] the importance of shifting for oneself and learning to develop artisan skills that generate self-sufficiency, are foregrounded, the child characters learning to bake, weave rush mats or make slippers. [17] Their independence, resourcefulness and creativity not only ensure survival but attract the interest of a wealthy benefactor who (like a fairy godmother) appears at an opportune moment, takes an interest in the young protagonist and assists in enhancing their economic success, a device signalling even this rational moralist's debt to fairy tales. Comparable scenes are found in Genlis's works, but the point of view is invariably that of the rich children who are moved by the plight of the poor to give or engineer assistance. The acquisition of practical artisan skills by the young of all social classes was as important a part of Genlis's pedagogical ethos as it was of the Edgeworths'. The young man in The Good French Governess in Edgeworth's Moral Tales (1801), who extols the value of having learnt a trade (in this case, making much sought-after shell boxes), after his escape from prison during the French Revolution, recalls the boast of Louis-Philippe, the pupil of Genlis, who eventually came to the throne in 1830, that, thanks to her insistence on learning about trades and craftmanship, he had a variety of practical skills at his disposal. In fact, this tale may well owe a great deal to Genlis's pedagogical methods — the French governess employs constant but unobtrusive supervision of her charges and uses a variety of means to stimulate their enthusiasm. In a scene in which she takes her charges to a toyshop run by "an ingenious gentleman" who had employed proper workmen to execute rational toys and novelties, the young boy is soon enchanted with a wooden cart and a mini-wheelbarrow. The selection of toys on this occasion (a cabinet for a mineral collection, basket-making equipment, a small printing-press, a loom, a magnifying glass, model furniture to be assembled and gardening tools) which both encourage physical activity and provide scope for the energetic imagination, recalls the manual skills that Genlis actively encouraged at Belle-Chasse. The maquettes (models) of buildings and workshops that she had made for her pupils can still be seen in the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris. Just such a rational toyshop is also advocated in the first chapter of Practical Education, where the attractions and advantages of many of these toys are discussed in detail. In Early Lessons, Edgeworth has Harry, Lucy and Frank visiting workshops, a farm and a dairy and learning about carpentry, threshing, gardening, spinning and many other practical activities. The affinities between Genlis and Edgeworth are intriguing and certainly deserve to be more fully explored: the connection was, in fact, made early on by Ruskin, who, reversing the comparison, referred to Genlis as "the French Miss Edgeworth" [18] 
  13. The influence of Genlis's work on that of Mary Martha Sherwood, whose longlasting best-seller The History of the Fairchild Family (1818) has become synonymous with the Evangelical Movement, is perhaps, at first sight, the most surprising of all the cases discussed here, but nonetheless is also, arguably, the most striking. Like Genlis, Sherwood had extensive experience of educating children, including her own and orphans she had adopted, and had strong pedagogical and religious principles. The popularity of Genlis's plays for children in England is testified to by Sherwood's assertion that she encountered them when at school at Reading Abbey and that "L'Aveugle de Spa" (The Blind Woman of Spa), a piece about benevolence and compassion, was "the first book to give me any idea of denying myself to assist others". [19] Despite her dislike of the French in general ("the most daring infidels in Europe"), and her criticism of Genlis's spartan educational régime in her own novel Caroline Mordaunt, or The Governess (1835) it has been asserted that Sherwood drew heavily upon Genlis in her major works. [20] Her skill lay in adapting the pedagogical ideas of her eighteenth-century predecessors and the literary strategies they employed to impart them to a young readership to her own Evangelical ends. In 1820, for example, she published under her own name a revision of Sarah Fielding's very influential book The Governess, or Little Female Academy of 1749, altering the rational discourse between teacher and pupils to one of religious exhortation. Notwithstanding, Sherwood has often been seen as a Romantic at heart and her depiction, in texts such as Little Henry and his Bearer Boosy (1814), of otherworldly, saintly children is, in effect, akin to the idealising of youth and innocence in Romanticism's imaging of childhood.
  14. The Fairchild Family, a landmark in the history of children's literature which, as Nancy Cutt remarks, "laid the Evangelical crusade squarely on the domestic doorstep", adopts the same structure as Tales of the Castle of a domestic history of a family living in a pastoral environment in which is embedded a series of tales and homilies that complement the events of daily life. [21] The family setting here is explicitly seen to mirror the notion of the family in Christ, with the parents and their ever-watchful, benevolent severity as surrogates for God. Here, both mother and father are present and the family are only moderately well-to-do, but the dynamics between the three children, two girls and a boy, recall Genlis's text. The episodes depicted are more varied and lively, however, for Emily, Lucy and Henry are allowed a more robust and persistent naughtiness, and the scrapes they get into must have made exhilarating reading for children (they wreck their tidy beds, dirty their clothes, overeat, fall from a swing, climb on the roof of a barn, steal fruit, and even get slightly tipsy on cider. Henry refuses to learn his Latin, gets chased by a bull and falls into a pit of pigswill). Many episodes depict social interaction with visitors, domestic servants or villagers, which, like those in Tales of the Castle, provide occasion for further lessons: thus "The Story of Mrs Crosbie and the Green Silk Bonnets" teaches not only the absurdity of vanity and bad taste in dress but shames Lucy and Emily for mocking the visitor, when she gives them gifts of pretty bonnets. But the narration of these events is dominated by ever-present reminders of death and the fear of eternal damnation. Unlike Genlis's text, in which religion is discreetly integrated with general moral and social responsibility, the primary concern of Sherwood's narrative is the constantly imperilled souls of the children and every occasion becomes the subject of a lecture on the importance of self-examination and obedience to the parental and divine will. The Fairchild children are being prepared not just for a virtuous life but for eternity. Mr Fairchild, when Henry steals an apple and lies about it, tells the child: "I do not punish you, my child, because I do not love you, but because I wish to save your soul from hell." [22] The children themselves, for all the detailed realism in the depiction of their characters and activities, are unnaturally ready to quote biblical texts, keep diaries of their wicked thoughts and discuss points of religious dogma. The obsessive focus on sin and damnation is nowhere more manifest than in the scene, notorious in the history of children's literature, in which the children are taken to witness a decaying corpse of a man who murdered his brother hanging on a gibbet to teach them the consequences of sibling quarrels. The embedded tales are improving stories of transgressions or exemplary goodness, of upbringings endangered by temptation and sin or illuminated by faith (for example, "The History of the Orphan Boy, whose Mother had Faith in God's Promises"), and are either read from the children's books or recounted by other characters, mainly women. [23] The activities of the Fairchild children themselves are presented, in fact, as discrete edifying vignettes, thus the chasing of a pig and Emily's fall from a swing are subsumed under the title "Story on the Constant Bent of Man's Heart to Sin". The little daily transgressions and redemptions are the source of displays not of rational analysis, but of intense emotions and fervent piety.
  15. Sherwood employs a more formal structure of framed moral tales in The Lady of the Manor (published in seven volumes between 1823 and 1829). In this work, subtitled A Series of Conversations on the Subject of Confirmation intended for the Use of the Middle and Higher Ranks of Young Females, Sherwood writes herself into the narrative, as did Genlis, in the person of a female educator, a benign and dignified widow with two children, who, at the request of the local clergyman, gives religious instruction to a group of young ladies of the parish who are candidates for confirmation. The tradition of evening talks and story-telling at home organises the narrative as it does Genlis's work, with the Lady of the Manor delivering sometimes quite lengthy moral tales to her young visitors in which the familiar themes of the recognition and practice of virtues and vices recur. The first, for example, tells of her own envy, as a young girl, of a wealthy, elegant acquaintance whose brilliant career is cut short when she dies of a chill on the eve of her marriage to an earl. As she watches the passing hearse, the white plumes of the horses reminding her of the decorations she had admired on her friend's hat, the narrator reflects upon her own modest blessings and the transitory nature of beauty, rank and riches. The recipients of the tales in this text are, however, passive, unspeaking and for the most part, unnamed and uncharacterised listeners, and the narrative consists, after the introductory preamble, of an unrelenting monologue on the part of the Lady of the Manor, followed by prayers and passages from the Bible.
  16. Of the books for young readers that successfully crossed the Channel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the works of Mme de Genlis created a particular resonance for women writers not just because of the shared reservations about contemporary educational notions and the unexceptionable nature of the morals inscribed in her narratives, but because they identified with her privileging of personal active experience of educating children in the process of literary creation. Like her, the writers discussed here brought their experience to bear upon the provision of texts that would both instruct and amuse their readers and made a further significant contribution to the business of educating the young, not through theories alone, but through the books that children themselves read and which were cherished in their homes

    Penny Brown
    French Studies
    University of Manchester


[1] See, for example, Dunkley, John, "Class relationships and social norms in Berquin's L'Ami des enfans", Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (Voltaire Foundation: Oxford, 1992), pp.1718–20 and "Berquin's "L'Ami des enfants" and "L'Ami des adolescents: innocence into experience", Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 2005:01, pp.53–77. ; Brown, Penny, "'La Femme enseignante': Mme de Genlis and the moral and didactic tale in France", Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 76, no.3 (Autumn 1994). And "Candidates for my Friendship˛ or How Mme de Genlis and Mary Wollstonecraft Sought to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness", New Comparison 20 (Autumn 1995), pp.46–60. [back]
[2] For full biographical details, see Broglie, Gabrial. .Madame de Genlis (Perrin: Paris, 1985). And Naudin, Marie, "Stéphanie-Félicité. Comtesse de Genlis" in Martin Sartori, Eva & Dorothy Wynne Zimmerman (eds.), French Women Writers (University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln & London, 1994), pp.178–187. [back]
[3] Edgeworth, Maria. Preface to The Parent's Assistant. In The Novels and Selected Works of Maria Edgeworth, Eger Elizabeth and Cliona OGallchoir, eds. Vol 10 Pickering & Chatto: London, 2003. 12 vols. 3. Edgeworth, Maria and Richard, Practical Education. In The Novels and Selected Works of Maria Edgeworth, Vol. 10. 195. [back]
[4] I have compared these two texts in detail in "'Candidates for my friendship' or, How Mary Wollstonecraft and Mme de Genlis sought to regulate the affections and form the mind to truth and goodness", New Comparison, 20 (Autumn 1995), pp.46–60. [back]
[5] Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Kramnick, Miriam. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1978. 129. [back]
[6] Vindication of the Rights of Woman, pp.205–6. [back]
[7] Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Female Reader. In The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Todd, Janet, and Marilyn Butler, eds. 6 vols, vol. 4.75. (Publisher?) Wollstonecraft, Mary. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Vol. 4: 41. [back]
[8] Wollstonecraft, Mary. Original Stories, in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, vol.4: 361. [back]
[9] Wollstonecraft. The Female Reader. 330 [back]
[10] Wollstonecraft, Original Stories. 370 [back]
[11] Letter to Maria Sneyd, 19 March 1803. Cited in Maria Edgeworth in France and Switzerland: selections from the Edgeworth Family letters. Colvin, Christine, ed. Clarendon: Oxford, 1979). 96–102. [back]
[12] Butler, Marilyn. Maria Edgeworth. A Literary Biography. Clarendon: Oxford, 1972. 172 [back]
[13] Butler, Maria Edgeworth. 157. [back]
[14] Butler, Maria Edgeworth. 155–56. [back]
[15] Butler, Maria Edgeworth. 160. [back]
[16] Sir Walter Scott. Cited in Butler. Maria Edgeworth. 160. [back]
[17] Myers, Mitzi. "Romancing the Moral Tale: Maria Edgeworth and the Problematics of Pedagogy". In Holt McGavran, James, ed. Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England Athens: University of Georgia Press. 1991. 98. [back]
[18] Ruskin, John. Cited in Broglie. Madame de Genlis. 479. No source given. [back]
[19] Cited in Royde Smith, Naomi. The State of Mind of Mrs Sherwood. Macmillan: London, 1946. 29. [back]
[20] Royde Smith. The State of Mind of Mrs Sherwood. 56; Nancy Cutt, M. Mrs Sherwood and her Books for Children. Oxford University Press: London, 1974: 43. [back]
[21] Cutt. Mrs Sherwood and her Books for Children. 63. [back]
[22] Sherwood, Mary Martha. The History of the Fairchild Family or, The Child's Manual. James Nisbet & Co: London, n.d: 42. [back]
[23] We know that Sherwood's mother told tales to her children on winter evenings. See Royde Smith. The State of Mind of Mrs Sherwood. 26. [back]
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