Appendix A: (Post-)Romantic Childhoods in British Literature Syllabus

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Appendix A: (Post-)Romantic Childhoods in British Literature Syllabus

Sandra Dinter and Stefanie John
RWTH Aachen University and the University of Muenster


Week 1. Introduction: What Is Childhood?

No prior reading required.

Week 2. Theoretical Approaches to Childhood I – Traditional Approaches

  • Ariés, Philippe. “From Immodesty to Innocence.” The Children’s Culture Reader. Edited by Henry Jenkins, New York UP, 1998, pp. 41-57.
  • Cox, Roger. “The Child in History: Introduction.” Shaping Childhood: Themes of Uncertainty in the History of Adult-Child Relationships. Routledge, 1996, pp. 1-10.

Week 3. Theoretical Approaches to Childhood II – New Approaches

  • Rose, Jacqueline S. “The Case of Peter Pan: The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction.” The Children’s Culture Reader. Edited by Henry Jenkins, New York UP, 1998, pp. 58-66.
  • Woodhead, Martin. “Childhood Studies: Past, Present and Future.” An Introduction to Childhood Studies. Edited by Mary Jane Kehily, Open UP, 2010, pp. 17-34.

Week 4. Childhood in Britain: Then

  • Hendrick, Harry. “Constructions and Reconstructions of British Childhood: An Interpretative Survey, 1800 to the Present.” Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood. Edited by Allison James and Alan Prout, Routledge Falmer, 1997, pp. 34-63.

Week 5. Romantic Childhoods I

  • Aidan Day, “Constructions of the Term ‘Romantic.’” Romanticism. The New Critical Idiom, Routledge, 1996, pp. 79-105. (pp. 106-125 are optional)
  • Wordsworth, William. “We Are Seven”, “Lucy Gray”, “My Heart Leaps up when I Behold.” William Wordsworth. 21st Century Oxford Authors, edited by Stephen Gill, Oxford UP, 2010, pp. 21-23, 107-108, 264.

Week 6. Romantic Childhoods II

  • Blake, William. “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” Blake’s Poetry and Designs. 2nd ed., edited by Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant, Norton, 2008, pp. 8-47.

Week 7. Victorian Childhoods

  • Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. 1837-9, Penguin, 1994, pp. 1-36. (excerpt)
  • Newsom, Robert. “Fictions of Childhood.” The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. Edited by John O. Jordan, Cambridge UP, 2001, pp. 92-105.

Week 8. Childhood in Britain: Now

  • Dodou, Katherina. “Examining the Idea of Childhood: The Child in the Contemporary British Novel.” The Child in British Literature: Literary Constructions of Childhood, Medieval to Contemporary. Edited by Adrienne E. Gavin, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 238-250.
  • Hill, Amelia, Caroline Davies and Gaby Hinsliff. “Are Our Children Really in Crisis, or the Victims of Parents' Anxiety?” The Observer 1 February 2009. Accessed 5 March 2013. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/feb/01/child-welfare-inquiry>.
  • Scraton, Phil. “Preface.” ‘Childhood’ in Crisis? Edited by Phil Scraton, Routledge, 1997, pp. vii-xiv.
  • Scraton, Phil. “Whose ‘Childhood’? What ‘Crisis’? ‘Childhood’ in Crisis? Edited by Phil Scraton, Routledge, 1997, pp. 163-186.

Week 9. Ian McEwan’s The Cement GardenI

  • McEwan, Ian. The Cement Garden. 1979. Vintage, 2006. (please purchase!)

Week 10. Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden II

  • McEwan, Ian. The Cement Garden. 1979. Vintage, 2006. (please purchase!)

Week 11. Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child I

  • Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child. 1988. Harper Perennial, 2007.

Week 12. Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child II

  • Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child. 1988. Harper Perennial, 2007.

Week 13. John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas I

  • Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. 2006. David Fickling Books, 2010. (please purchase!)

Week 14. John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas II

  • Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. 2006. David Fickling Books, 2010. (please purchase!)

Week 15. Conclusion

No prior reading required.

Study Questions

Week 2

  1. Who was Philippe Ariès? Which scholarly tradition/approach is he associated with? What are his major works?
  2. How did the ‘new’ idea of childhood innocence influence child rearing according to the excerpt by Ariès? Provide examples from the text.
  3. What, according to Roger Cox, is the ‘Ariès idea’?

Week 3

  1. Conduct research: What are the origins of the literary character Peter Pan? What are his major character traits and abilities?
  2. What does Jacqueline Rose mean when she claims that children’s fiction is ‘impossible’? In what ways is children’s fiction ‘impossible’?
  3. What, according to Martin Woodhead, are the three key features of contemporary Childhood Studies?

Week 4

  1. Two texts that are always mentioned in the context of childhood (also in Hendrick’s text) are John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile (1762). What are these texts about and why were they so influential? Consult additional sources or the internet for further information if necessary.
  2. What factors, according to Hendrick, influenced the changing attitude concerning child labour? Why so?
  3. To what extent and in what ways are the concepts of childhood delinquency and schooling related?

Week 5

  1. What is the distinction made by Friedrich Schlegel between the ‘romantic’ and the ‘classical’? In what way did it (or did not) affect discussions about literature in Britain?
  2. Which role did the Romantics attribute to the poet in the context of the French Revolution, according to M. H. Abrams?
  3. What are the Lyrical Ballads? Conduct research if necessary.

Week 6

  1. What are the origins and most important features of the ‘pastoral’ tradition? Please indicate your source(s).
  2. Compare Blake’s introduction to Songs of Innocence to his introduction to Songs of Experience. How do they vary in tone and subject?
  3. Which recurring themes and motifs do you notice in Blake’s Songs?

Week 7

  1. What is a Victorian workhouse, the place that is described as Oliver Twist’s place of birth? Consult and cite secondary sources if necessary.
  2. Have a look at your notes concerning narrative from your introduction to literary studies. What type of narrative situation and what kind of focalisation is employed in the excerpt from Oliver Twist? Look up these terms if you are not familiar with them. In order to illustrate your answer, give one or two short examples from the text.
  3. What other works and child characters by Dickens besides Oliver Twist and its eponymous hero does Newsom mention in his text? What do they have in common?

Week 8

  1. In what different ways does contemporary fiction about childhood ‘revisit innocence’ according to Dodou?
  2. What problems in the context of childhood have increased in recent years according to Hill et al.?
  3. How does the killing of James Bulger relate to an alleged crisis of childhood in the 1990s?

Week 9

  1. Who is Ian McEwan and what are his most important works? Cite your sources.
  2. An intertext often mentioned in conjunction with The Cement Garden is William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954). What is Golding’s novel about and where do you see thematic similarities to McEwan’s novella, particularly with regard to childhood? Cite your sources.
  3. How is McEwan’s novella structured? What effect does this structure create and how does it shape the plot?

Week 10

  1. Have a look at the MLA bibliography and search for McEwan’s The Cement Garden. Cite five academic sources (e.g. book chapter, article, monograph etc.) that you could use if you had to write a term paper on McEwan’s novella. Cite these correctly in alphabetical order according to the MLA Handbook.
  2. A crucial issue in McEwan’s novel are gender roles. Provide examples from the text in which traditional notions of masculinity and femininity are a) affirmed and b) subverted or even inverted.
  3. McEwan’s novel has mostly been described as an anti-Romantic portrayal of childhood. Can you, however, find instances in the novella that affirm Romantic images of childhood?

Week 11

  1. What are the functions of the characters of Paul and Amy?
  2. Have another look at the language (choice of words, metaphors etc.) that is employed to describe Ben. Do you recognise any patterns? What effects does this language have on the portrayal of Ben?
  3. Imagine you had to write a term paper on The Fifth Child. Write down three different thesis statements that you could base three term paper(s) on.

Week 12

  1. Post two questions on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on our learning platform that you would like to discuss in class next week.
  2. John Boyne refers to his novel as a ‘fable’. What is a fable? Please refer to an academic source to answer this question.
  3. Various critics have attacked Boyne’s novel for downplaying the cruelty of the Holocaust. Which aspects of the novel did you find particularly problematic? Why so?

Week 13

  1. How does Boyne’s depiction of childhood differ from the childhoods represented in The Cement Garden and The Fifth Child? Where do you see continuities and discontinuities?
  2. If you had to teach a class on representations of the Holocaust, would you choose to discuss John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas? Why or why not? What age group would you target?
  3. What are the most important aspects concerning childhood you will remember from this semester? Which questions that we did not touch upon would you have liked to discuss?

Chart Exercise

Discuss the following questions in a small group:

  • What is childhood? What are, in your opinion, central characteristics of childhood and children? Which factors shape the experience of childhood?
  • Which characteristics are not part of childhood? What would you exclude from the sphere and experience of childhood?

Record your responses on the handout, under the “Childhood” and “Non-Childhood” columns.