Sensible Shoes and Suitable Husbands: Teaching Austen with Children’s Literature

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Sensible Shoes and Suitable Husbands: Teaching Austen with Children’s Literature [1] 

Meghan Rosing
Lehigh University

1.        Reading and writing about a Jane Austen novel can be quite challenging for first-year composition students, and Emma (1816) is an especially difficult read for those who are unfamiliar with Austen or the Romantic era. Lacking the suspense of Northanger Abbey (1818) or the dramatic accident at the heart of Persuasion (1818), Emma concerns the everyday preoccupations of a spoiled heiress and the village society over which she presides. As Julia Prewitt Brown notes, the novel has “less story and outward moral conflict than the previous Austen novels” and “the climax . . . is an insulting remark spoken at a picnic” (18). The students in my composition courses, most of whom are engineering or business majors, struggle with the novel’s slow pace, as well as the unfamiliar language and class structure that define Highbury society. I have found that assigning a handful of Maria Edgeworth’s stories for children immediately after students read Emma gives them a way into the culture and customs of this baffling world and helps illuminate the stakes of the choices Austen’s characters make.

2.        Teaching a children’s text alongside a canonical novel like Emma is fairly unusual, in part because Romantic-era children’s literature has long been considered unworthy of serious study. Overviews of children’s literature traditionally described how the drearily didactic books of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were replaced by the Victorian fantasy texts that ushered in a golden age of children’s literature. Percy Muir, writing in 1954, characterizes the Romantic period’s female writers for children as a “monstrous regiment of women,” noting that, “They had obviously studied the previous output of children’s publishers, and had made up their minds that they could do exactly the same sort of thing, only very much better than it had been done before. Therefore all their books are strongly flavoured with morals” (82-3). Muir’s summary is typical of how critics tended to deride children's writers as amateurs, yet mocked them for studying the literary market. Even thirty years later, Nigel Cross describes writing for children as a popular choice for “the averagely educated but uninspired and inexperienced literary woman” because such writing “required neither genius nor learning, only patience and necessity” (199- 200). Recent monographs and scholarly journals have complicated such accounts by attending to previously ignored Romantic-era texts for children, but these studies often consider children’s literature apart from the canonical works of “adult” authors like Austen. [2]  This separation also occurs in the classroom, where students read children’s texts in a single unit or a course dedicated to children’s or young adult literature. While such courses do the important work of bringing neglected literature to the attention of students, isolating children’s texts from their wider literary context risks missing the ways they engaged with the political and social issues of the era.

3.        Texts by complex figures like Maria Edgeworth, Hannah More, Anna Letitia Barbauld, and Charlotte Smith (who were poets, novelists, and pedagogy theorists as well as writers for children) entered wholeheartedly into the period’s debates about education and child-rearing, as well as slavery, poverty, and war. [3]  Reading these texts helps students appreciate the richness of the era’s children’s literature and also provides a valuable context for more “canonical” Romantic texts. Although children’s texts have been dismissed because of their simple language and straightforward didacticism, these very qualities offer students an accessible context for the work of a writer like Austen. The relative brevity and simplicity of many children’s texts make them easier for students to digest than a longer novel like Emma. More importantly, by depicting children learning how to interact with members of their communities—including other children, adults, social superiors or inferiors, and even animals—the texts clarify social expectations for students unfamiliar with the era, teaching them these values along with the child protagonists.

4.        Didactic texts might seem unlikely to attract students, but I have found that the everyday situations and clear moral choices in children’s literature help students who are uncomfortable writing and talking about Romantic-era literature feel authorized to participate in discussions about these dilemmas. In fact, didactic texts work particularly well in the introductory composition or literature classroom because students’ unfamiliarity with hierarchies of “high” and “low” literature, or even of “didactic” as a category, enables them to read with fewer preconceptions about which kinds of texts deserve their attention and which do not.

5.        Further, reading overtly didactic children’s literature alerts students to the more subtle didactic elements in Austen’s work. Students often perceive Austen’s novels solely as love stories, but reading her work alongside children’s literature reveals that Austen is as concerned with moral behavior as the writers of children’s literature are. The young heroes and heroines of texts for children struggle with the same essential dilemmas that Austen’s characters face. When Rosamond—the child heroine of Edgeworth’s series of children’s stories, first published in The Parent’s Assistant (1796)—must decide between the beautiful purple jar she desires and the sensible shoes she needs, she experiences a miniature version of Marianne Dashwood’s or Elizabeth Bennet’s quandary when choosing between a charming scoundrel and a more appropriate (if initially unappealing) suitor. Of all the Austen heroines, Emma Woodhouse is most like an older version of Edgeworth’s irrepressible Rosamond. Like her younger counterpart, Emma’s mistaken confidence in her ability to read the world around her leads her to make a series of poor choices. Pairing the Rosamond stories with Emma helps students understand the profound consequences of the apparently trivial choices that Emma and others in the novel make.

6.        Although students in my first-year composition course on “Information Networks” find reading Emma challenging, the novel’s concern with communication of all kinds (especially mistakes and misreadings) helps them think about how their writing participates in information networks in our own era of texting and tweeting. The class, which builds on the previous semester’s writing course, covers a range of time periods and genres, from Austen to Raymond Chandler’s detective novel Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and M.T. Anderson’s dystopian young adult novel Feed (2002). Throughout the semester, students connect these diverse texts by writing about the ways that information networks persist and shift across time and culture. Beginning the course with the enclosed and even claustrophobic information networks of Austen’s Highbury establishes a reference point by which students measure the sprawling information networks of Chandler’s menacing Los Angeles or Anderson’s blighted suburbia. While the characters and cultures in all these texts are very distant from my students’ experience, in some ways the world of Emma strikes them as the strangest, and children’s texts like Edgeworth’s Rosamond stories provide a useful map for navigating it.

7.        We read Emma in fairly brief segments and discuss them over the course of six fifty-minute class periods. When we finish reading Emma, I assign three of Maria Edgeworth’s stories: “The Purple Jar,” “The Two Plums,” and “The Hyacinths,” all featuring young Rosamond’s adventures. Because students have finished Emma before reading the Rosamond stories, they are able to trace the pattern of Emma’s failed match-making attempts and compare them to Rosamond’s mistakes. Although Edgeworth’s stories can stand independently, each tale builds on the previous one as Rosamond’s experiences guide her new decisions. In each story, Rosamond chooses between an object that will grant her short-lived pleasure and one that will prove more useful in the long term. In “The Purple Jar,” she wastes money on a jar instead of purchasing the new shoes she needs. Rosamond learns from this mistake, and in the story of “The Two Plums” she chooses a useful sewing box over a decorative stone plum. Finally, in “The Hyacinths,” she rejects damaged hyacinth blossoms in favor of roots that will bloom later.

8.        My students and I spend most of our class time discussing Edgeworth’s most famous story, “The Purple Jar,” which vividly depicts the serious consequences of an impulsive choice. The story opens as seven-year-old Rosamond shops with her mother. She is enchanted by the dazzling objects she sees in the shop windows, particularly a purple jar that she wants to use for a flower vase. Her mother tells her that she will give her money to spend either on the jar or on the new shoes she desperately needs. Rosamond pleads for help making this decision, but her mother only advises her to examine the jar closely before making up her mind. Although Rosamond insists that she does not need to inspect the jar, she still craves her mother’s approval. When her mother asks if she has made a decision, she answers, “Mamma! – yes, – I believe. – If you please – I should like the flower-pot; that is, if you won’t think me very silly, mamma.” Her mother responds, “Why, as to that, I can’t promise you, Rosamond; but, when you are to judge for yourself, you should chuse what will make you the happiest; and then it would not signify who thought you silly, mamma” (117). Rather than interfering in her daughter’s choice or its consequences, Rosamond’s mother allows her to think and talk through the problem on her own.

9.        The mother’s policy of non-interference extends to her refusal to mitigate the consequences of Rosamond’s choice. When the jar arrives at her home and Rosamond discovers that it is only a clear container filled with a purple liquid, her mother insists that she must abide by her decision and wait another month to buy new shoes. Not only must Rosamond endure the pain of walking in tattered shoes, she is unable to go on an excursion with her father because he refuses to take her in such a “slip-shod” condition (119). Rosamond realizes she has made the wrong decision and declares, “I am sure—no, not quite sure—but, I hope, I shall be wiser another time” (119). My students usually protest that the consequences of Rosamond’s choice seem unduly severe, and their horror or amusement at the mother’s sternness leads to lively class discussion. Although students initially dismiss the mother’s pedagogical method as a harsh and outmoded approach to child-rearing, they begin to complicate this progress narrative as we contextualize her behavior in two ways: looking closely at the adult/child interactions in the story and reading excerpts from contemporary child-rearing texts and literature for children.

10.        I first ask students to pay attention to the mother’s own explanations of her pedagogical methods. In “The Hyacinths,” for example, she provides a clear explanation of why she refuses to give her daughter explicit guidance: “‘Don’t consult my eyes, Rosamond,’ said her mother, smiling: ‘You shall see nothing in my eyes;’ and her mother turned away her head.—‘Use your own understanding, because you will not always have my eyes to see with’” (146). The mother’s remark hints at inevitable loss; Rosamond must learn to make her own decisions and to abide by their consequences because she will eventually need to function without her mother’s guidance.

11.        Asking students to read the dialogues between Rosamond and her mother aloud (with one reader taking each part) highlights the contrast between the child’s effusive pleas for affirmation and her mother’s terse replies. Barbara McClintock Folsom likewise suggests having students explore the misunderstandings between Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by analyzing their conversations (103). A similar exercise works particularly well with children’s literature because so many of the texts foreground conversation in educational dialogues, rational debates, and passionate arguments.

12.        As they read dialogue aloud, students begin to see the method behind the mother’s apparent detachment and trace how carefully she shapes her responses. The voices of mother and daughter form an especially vivid contrast in the passage in which Rosamond discovers her mistake about the jar:

“Oh, dear mother!” cried [Rosamond], as soon as she had taken off the top, “but there’s something dark in it—it smells disagreeably—what is it? I didn’t want this black stuff.”

“Nor I neither, my dear.”

“But what shall I do with it, mamma?”

“That I cannot tell.”

“But will be of no use to me, mamma.”

“That I can’t help.”

“But I must pour it out, and fill the flower-pot with water.”

“That’s as you please, my dear.”

“Will you lend me a bowl to pour it into, mamma?”

“That was more than I promised you, my dear; but I will lend you a bowl.” (118)

Reading this dialogue aloud highlights its tightly controlled yet flexible structure. [4]  The mother shapes and guides the exchange, but Rosamond actively questions and participates in the conversation. Performing this passage also provides a glimpse of how Edgeworth’s original readers may have engaged with the text, perhaps as an adult read the dialogue aloud with a child who interrupted to question and clarify.

13.        After we consider the interactions between Rosamond and her mother, I offer more background on the mother’s pedagogical methods by placing her in the tradition of children’s texts that feature wise female mentors. Some Romantic children’s texts and treatises on education feature male educators, like the tutor of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762) or Mr. Barlow in Thomas Day’s The History of Sandford and Merton (1783), but Mitzi Myers points to the prevalence of female mentors in the era’s children’s literature, noting that these woman-authored texts offer “a new mode of female heroism” that emphasizes “rationality, self-command, and moral autonomy” (“Impeccable” 34). If time allows, I may assign excerpts from children’s texts that feature powerful female mentors, such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories from Real Life (1788) or Charlotte Smith’s Rural Walks (1795). Contrasting Edgeworth’s object-based pedagogy with the moral discourses and community interactions that mentors in the Wollstonecraft and Smith texts facilitate demonstrates the diverse pedagogical approaches included under the umbrella term of “didactic” literature.

14.        In addition to understanding Rosamond’s mother as part of a tradition of female mentors in children’s literature, students analyze her pedagogical practice in more depth by reading excerpts from contemporary texts on child-rearing, such as Practical Education (1798), which Edgeworth co-wrote with her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Students are often quick to dismiss the methods of Rosamond’s mother as an example of oppressive child-rearing practices that have been replaced by enlightened approaches that allow the child more freedom. Learning more about the remarkable degree of self-awareness that Practical Education and the Rosamond stories attribute to children, however, helps complicate this simple progress narrative. The chapter on “Truth,” which cautions parents against guiding children too closely, is particularly useful for understanding the apparent detachment of Rosamond’s mother: “Children are alarmed if they see that you are very anxious and impatient for their answer, they think that they hazard much by their reply; they hesitate, and look eagerly in your face, to discover by your countenance what they ought to think and feel, and what sort of answer you expect” (321-2). The pedagogical methods the Edgeworths describe in Practical Education are not simply meant to wean children from dependence to independence but rather to teach them to be self-reliant yet responsible community members: the same notion of maturity that the Rosamond stories and Emma envision for their heroines.

15.        Reading excerpts from non-fiction texts about child-rearing alongside books intended for children also gives students a grounding in the ways that the pressing issues of social inequity and slavery intersect with debates about childhood education. Practical Education underscores how the child’s interactions with adults are inevitably shaped by her subordination, noting that, “[T]he hope of conciliating the good will of the powerful beings by whom they are surrounded, is one of the first wishes that appears in the minds of intelligent and affectionate children” (291-2). Edgeworth links the child’s subordination to other kinds of social oppression, arguing that Irish laborers’ apparent deceptiveness derives from a similar wish to please, and that subordination is also responsible for the “propensity to falsehood of the negro slaves” (208, 211). Reading passages like this along with Edgeworth’s ameliorist tale “The Grateful Negro” (1804) helps students identify the ways she draws attention to oppression even as she reinforces the race and class assumptions that underpin such oppression.

16.        Edgeworth’s stories assert that the child’s apparently trivial decisions matter because they determine the kinds of choices she will make as an adult. Witnessing Rosamond’s decision-making process is meant to train young readers to examine their own options closely, to privilege the useful over the ornamental, and to choose long-term happiness over instant gratification. Mitzi Myers notes the empowering implications of such lessons for girl readers: “[E]ach tale acts to remedy culturally determined female deficiency in independent thinking and affirms that girls can achieve control of their wits and hence in some measure of their own lives” (“Dilemmas” 73). Like Rosamond, Emma is occupied by a series of choices that initially seem unimportant but prove to have profound consequences for her own happiness and the stability of her community.

17.        Emma is filled with everyday objects (like Rosamond’s purple jar and her stone plum) that become significant elements in the larger plot. Like Rosamond, Emma initially misreads objects like Mr. Elton’s charade and Jane Fairfax’s pianoforte: she interprets the charade as a sign of Mr. Elton’s attachment to Harriet although it is really a message meant for her, and she reads the mysterious pianoforte as proof of Jane’s involvement with Mr. Dixon, unaware that it is a present from Frank Churchill. Like Rosamond refusing to examine the purple jar before buying it, Emma fails to scrutinize the evidence before coming to a conclusion. When she finally realizes that Mr. Elton meant to pay his addresses to her rather than Harriet, Emma admits that her desires have twisted the evidence: “She had taken up the idea, she supposed, and made everything bend to it” (95). Emma resolves to learn from her misreading of Mr. Elton’s intentions much as Rosamond declares her “hope” that she will make a better choice next time:

It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious—a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more. (97)
In spite of this determination, however, Emma soon proceeds with her plans to pair Harriet with Frank Churchill, a match that is also doomed to fail. Emma repeats the same mistakes in part because she does not see herself as a Rosamond figure in need of education, but rather as a mentor figure like Rosamond’s mother.

18.        Reading children’s texts that depict powerful female mentors helps students understand why Emma wishes to take on this kind of authority, especially at a time when few avenues of exerting social power were available to women, even those of her privileged station. Emma’s appropriation of the mentor role is most obvious in her interactions with Harriet Smith, whom she casts in the role of the child in need of instruction. Harriet, in Mr. Knightley’s words, “‘is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations’” (45). Reading the dialogue between Emma and Harriet in light of the passage from Practical Education that describes children’s desire to please “powerful beings” shows how the unequal power balance between Emma and Harriet dictates the form and content of their conversation. As Practical Education suggests, while Harriet’s need for affirmation may certainly be evidence of her naïveté, her inferior social status predisposes her to value Emma’s opinion over her own in the same way that Rosamond craves her mother’s approval.

19.        Emma’s appropriation of the wise mentor role becomes comically evident in the passage in which she and Harriet discuss Robert Martin’s proposal letter. My students and I return to this passage after reading the Rosamond stories; I ask two students to read the dialogue aloud, while a third reads the narrator’s lines. As when reading the passage from “The Purple Jar,” performing this dialogue aloud draws attention to the marked contrast between Harriet’s appeals for affirmation and Emma’s attempts to withhold advice:

“What would you advise me to do? Pray, dear Miss Woodhouse, tell me what I ought to do.”

“I shall not give you any advice, Harriet. I will have nothing to do with it. This is a point which you must settle with your own feelings . . . I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him . . . I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say this much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you.”

“Oh, no, I am sure you are a great deal too kind to—but if you would just advise me what I had best do—no, no, I do not mean that—as you say, one’s mind ought to be quite made up—one should not be hesitating—it is a very serious thing. It will be safer to say ‘No,’ perhaps. Do you think I had better say ‘No’?”

“Not for the world,” said Emma, smiling graciously, “would I advise you either way. You must be the best judge of your own happiness.” (38-9)

Because they have already analyzed the dialogue between Rosamond and her mother, my students quickly notice how Emma mimics an ideal mentor’s detachment even as she subtly manipulates Harriet’s decision-making. This passage can even be read as a critique of the pedagogical method Edgeworth advocates because it demonstrates how easily the more powerful person can dominate such interactions.

20.        While I usually teach only a single Austen novel in a first-year composition course, pairing the Rosamond stories with additional Austen novels in a literature survey or a dedicated Austen course would help students identify further connections between both sets of texts. Reading Persuasion along with the Rosamond stories, for example, frames Anne Elliot’s initial refusal to marry Captain Wentworth as the kind of choice that Rosamond learns to make, one that values practical considerations over ephemeral desires. Yet Anne’s unhappiness after the broken engagement points to the problems with relying too closely on the advice of her mentor Lady Russell. She even seems to unlearn some of the lessons Rosamond dutifully digests; Anne “had been forced into prudence in her youth,” but “learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning” (58). While Persuasion seems to critique the model of development the Rosamond stories advocate, the novel complicates rather than counters the message of Edgeworth’s stories by disrupting a narrative of simple growth from youth to maturity.

21.        Edgeworth’s tales provide an especially appealing introduction to Romantic children’s literature and they pair well with most of Austen’s novels, but reading other contemporary children’s texts can also help students grasp the Romantic period’s conceptions of childhood and education. As I have described, texts by Smith and Wollstonecraft help establish the importance of female mentors in this literature, and other children’s texts help illuminate key ideas about education in the Romantic era as well as nature and the Gothic. Simple comparisons between an Austen novel and a children’s text reveal the broad didactic structure of Austen’s work. When teaching Sense and Sensibility (1811), for example, I might ask students to compare the novel to one of the many children’s texts that feature wise/foolish sister pairs, from early folk tales to Harriet Martineau’s Five Years of Youth; or, Sense and Sentiment (1831), showing how Austen’s account of the Dashwood sisters draws on childhood stories about the competing demands of prudence and romance.

22.        Discussions of Mansfield Park (1814), with its emphasis on the far-reaching repercussions of early education, benefit even more from the kinds of contextualization children’s texts offer, given that students may find the novel’s relatively static plot even more challenging than Emma. The contrast between the education of the Bertram sisters and their cousin Fanny Price foreshadows the choices they will make as women. The Bertrams can “[R]epeat the chronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of their accession, and most of the principal events of their reigns … and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus; besides a great deal of the Heathen Mythology, and all the Metals, Semi-Metals, Planets, and distinguished philosophers,” while Fanny “cannot put the map of Europe together … cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia … she never heard of Asia Minor … she does not know the difference between water-colours and crayons!” (54-5). Fanny, of course, possesses “the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility” that the Bertrams lack, and her subsequent happiness is a reward for exercising these qualities (55). In spite of these admirable attributes, Fanny is often considered the least likeable of Austen’s heroines. In contrast to the witty Elizabeth or the endearingly conceited Emma, she is something of a cipher; children’s literature provides a helpful context for understanding her character.

23.        In the early sections of the novel, Fanny is a mute witness of everyone else’s folly. During the haphazard tour of Mr. Rushworth’s estate, she waits patiently on a bench while the other characters pass before her in a kind of panorama of petulance and selfishness. In this and similar scenes, Fanny resembles the “spectator” figure that appears in many forms in the era’s literature. While versions of the spectator figure vary, children’s texts like Ellenor Fenn’s The Fairy Spectator, or, The Invisible Monitor (1789), in which a benevolent but severe judge observes and judges the actions of children, offer a usefully succinct version of the spectator figure and highlights Fanny’s function as the moral center of Mansfield Park. Fanny watches the landscape as closely as she watches the people surrounding her, and children’s texts can also help students understand organizing concepts of nature that become important in Austen’s novels. Anne’s musings on poetry and nature in Persuasion, for example, recall children’s texts like Charlotte Smith’s Rural Walks (1795) and its sequel Rambles Farther (1796) that feature female mentors who engage their students in encounters with nature that provide moral instruction and solace for profound loss. Reading Austen and Smith together gives students a wider context for Romantic notions of the beautiful and the sublime or the idea of the picturesque, especially when paired with passages from Edmund Burke and William Gilpin.

24.        Discussions of the Gothic and fears about female readership taking place in an introductory Romanticism course are also enriched by engaging with children’s literature. Reading Northanger Abbey alongside Mary Lamb’s children’s story “The Young Mahometan” or Charles Lamb’s “The Witch Aunt,” both from the 1809 Mrs. Leicester’s School, and both featuring young girls whose unsupervised reading of frightening texts causes them unbearable terrors, demonstrates how Gothic trappings are deployed to underscore the dangers of indiscriminate reading for both child and adult audiences.

25.        I encourage students to explore the connections between children’s texts and Austen’s novels in more depth through a set of writing assignments that ask them to place the fiction we study in context with non-fiction texts, make personal connections to the literature, compare texts to one another, and rewrite one text in the form of another. This set of writing practices helps draw out the ways that Romantic children’s literature engages with the diverse concerns of the era. As I discuss above, students gain valuable context for the fiction they read by exploring non-fiction texts on child-rearing. They might write, for example, about the ways a text like Practical Education illuminates the contrasting educations of Fanny and the Bertram sisters in Mansfield Park.

26.        I also ask students to make personal connections to the texts by writing brief essays that reflect on two pivotal decisions they made in their own lives, one as a child and one as an adult. Writing about how they made these choices and comparing them to the decision-making that happens in an Austen novel or a children’s text helps students gain a more immediate understanding of the high stakes of the seemingly simple choices in the Austen novels and children’s texts. Creating assignments that make comparisons between texts supplements the kinds of comparisons my students do in class by reading aloud parallel dialogues from “The Purple Jar” and Emma. One paper assignment might ask them to identify an obvious didactic moment in a children’s text and to find a similar moment in an Austen novel, describing what the lesson is and how it gets learned. By requiring students to identify subtle didactic moments in Austen’s texts, this assignment complicates assumptions that Romantic-era children’s texts are merely dreary moral tales or that Austen’s novels are simple love stories.

27.        Finally, students can make connections between Austen’s novels and children’s texts by rewriting an incident from an Austen novel in imitation of the dialogue and incidents of a children’s text. For example, asking students to reimagine the climactic scene at Box Hill in Emma as one of Rosamond’s experiences leads to a discussion of how Emma’s rudeness to Miss Bates would be corrected by Rosamond’s mother if her daughter had made a similar misstep. Like the previous assignment, this rewriting task helps students first recognize the didactic elements of Austen’s work and then consider its relationship with children’s texts that are also concerned with how and what girls and women learn. Students can reinforce such connections by engaging in a “time travel” exercise in which they imagine a child character like Rosamond grown up and faced with the choices of Emma, Elizabeth, or Anne. How would she make decisions, given her past experiences? Contextualizing, connecting, comparing, and rewriting exposes the process by which children’s texts teach their young readers to acquire the social values and behaviors that can seem so mysterious to a first-time reader of Austen. Engaging with this process helps students discover, like many an Austen heroine, that both prudence and romance can be learned.

Works Cited

Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins; Or, The Aunt-Hill. 1875. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1895. Print.

Austen, Jane. Emma. 1816. Ed. George Justice. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

---. Mansfield Park. 1814. Ed. Tony Tanner. New York: Penguin, 1966. Print.

---. Persuasion. 1818. Ed. D.W. Harding. New York: Penguin, 1965. Print.

Cross, Nigel. The Common Writer: Life in Nineteenth-Century Grub Street. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.

Day, Thomas. The History of Sandford and Merton. London: Stockdale, 1783. Ed. Stephen Bending and Stephen Bygrave. Peterborough: Broadview, 2009. Print.

Dolan, Elizabeth A. “Collaborative Motherhood: Maternal Teachers and Dying Mothers in Charlotte Smith’s Children’s Books.” Women’s Writing. 16: 1 (2009): 109-125. Print.

---. Seeing Suffering in Women's Literature of the Romantic Era. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. Print.

Edgeworth, Maria. The Parent’s Assistant. The Works of Maria Edgeworth. 1796. Ed. Elizabeth Eger and Clíona ÓGallchoir. Vol 10. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003. Print.

Edgeworth, Maria and Richard Lovell. Practical Education. 1801. New York: Woodstock Books, 1996. Print.

Fenn, Ellenor. The Fairy Spectator; Or, The Invisible Monitor. London: Marshall, 1789. Print.

Folsom, Marcia McClintock. “‘Taking Different Positions’: Knowing and Feeling in Pride and Prejudice.” Approaches to Teaching Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Marcia McClintock Folsom. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1993. 100-14. Print.

Grenby, M. O. “‘Surely There Is No British Boy or Girl Who Has not Heard of the Battle of Waterloo!’: War and Children's Literature in the Age of Napolean.” Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War. Ed. Elizabeth Goodenough and Andrea Immel. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2008. 39-57. Print.

---. “‘Very Naughty Doctrines’: Children, Children's Literature, Politics and the French Revolution Crisis.” The French Revolution and the British Novel in the Romantic Period. Ed. A. D. Cousins, Dani Napton, and Stephanie Russo. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. 15-35. Print.

Lamb, Charles and Mary. Mrs. Leicester’s School. 1809. New York: Woodstock Books, 1995. Print.

Muir, Percy. English Children’s Books: 1600-1900. 1954. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1985. Print.

Myers, Mitzi. “The Dilemmas of Gender as Double-Voiced Narrative; Or, Maria Edgeworth Mothers the Bildungsroman.” The Idea of the Novel in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Robert W. Uphaus. East Lansing: Colleagues, 1988. 67–96. Print.

---. “Impeccable Governesses, Rational Dames, and Moral Mothers: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Female Tradition in Georgian Children's Books.” Children’s Literature 14 (1986): 3159. Print.

Prewitt-Brown, Julia. “The Everyday of Emma.” Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Emma. Ed. Marcia McClintock Folsom. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2004. 17–25. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile: Or, on Education. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1979. Print.

Smith, Charlotte. Rambles Further. The Works of Charlotte Smith. 1796. Ed. Elizabeth A. Dolan. Vol 12. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007. Print.

---. Rural Walks. The Works of Charlotte Smith. 1795. Ed. Elizabeth A. Dolan. Vol 12. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Original Stories. The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. 1791. Ed. Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler. Vol 4. London: Pickering, 1989. Print.


[1] I wish to thank Stephen Behrendt and the members of the 2013 NEH summer seminar on “Reassessing Romanticism” at the University of Nebraska for their helpful comments and suggestions on this essay. BACK

[2] The journals Children’s Literature and The Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, for example, publish solely on children’s literature, and many articles and books over the past two decades have also been dedicated to the topic. BACK

[3] Critics have shown the many ways that children’s literature engages with the social and political issues under debate in the period. Elizabeth A. Dolan, for example, explores how Charlotte Smith’s children’s literature critiques the treatment of the poor, while M.O. Grenby examines how the politics of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars emerge in children’s texts. BACK

[4] The austerity of Rosamond’s mother had already begun to seem excessively harsh by the Victorian era. Rose, the child protagonist of Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins (1875), whose own name echoes that of Edgeworth’s heroine, declares “‘I always thought it very unfair in her mother not to warn the poor thing a little bit; and she was regularly mean when Rosamond asked for a bowl to put the purple stuff in, and she said, in such a provoking way, ‘I did not agree to lend you a bowl, but I will, my dear.’ Ugh! I always want to shake that hateful woman, though she was a moral mamma’” (186). BACK

Published @ RC

April 2015