ISSN 1744-9618
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Penny Brown (French Studies, University of Manchester), Tales of castle and cottage: Mme de Genlis and women writers for children in the Romantic period (1798)

In the second half of the eighteenth century, women writers in France and Britain not only engaged in the ongoing debates about education, but were the main mediators of pedagogical ideas in books for young readers themselves. The influence of Rousseau's Emile, ou de l'éducation (1762) was widespread, but British writers were also acquainted with the most popular children's books produced in France. This paper explores the extent to which three English women writers were inspired by and drew upon the work of Mme de Genlis, a professional pedagogue and versatile and prolific author of books for adults and children. The methodology of an experimental education in a domestic setting that informs Genlis' Les Veillées du château (1784), a forerunner of the nineteenth-century family novel, with its emphasis on social responsibility, individual effort, benevolence and practical skills, finds its counterpart in the works for young readers of Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Martha Sherwood. Despite the different agenda underpinning their works (the rational moralist approach of Wollstonecraft and Edgeworth and the Evangelical fervour of Sherwood), these writers clearly identified with Genlis' privileging of personal active experience in educating children and shared her recognition of the need to entertain as well as instruct the young reader with lively and entertaining narratives and believable role models.

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