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  • Lust for Reading and Thirst for Knowledge:Fictive Letters in a Danish Children's Magazine of 1770
  • Nina Christensen (bio)

In the eighteenth century, when it gradually became more common to publish texts for children, writers were faced with fundamental questions: Who is the implied child reader? What characterizes the children you write for? How and what do you write for this new audience? So far, the answer in a Danish context has been that authors wrote for children in order to educate them, and that these children were thought of as imperfect creatures, inferior to adults. Very recently a doctoral thesis by Beth Juncker described the history of Danish children's literature as a development from a didactic and content-based tradition, with roots in the Enlightenment, toward a literary and form-based tradition rooted in Romanticism (Juncker 2006). Among others, Juncker refers to texts by Hans Christian Andersen, which have a poetic language rich with metaphors and texts by others that have an elaborate and "complex" narrative structure (Juncker 278). Juncker reinforces descriptions of eighteenth-century children's literature proposed by Danish children's literature historians such as Inger Simonsen (1944) and Vibeke Stybe (1970).

This article suggests a revision of this relatively fixed image of children and of children's literature in relation to Danish children's literature of the second half of the eighteenth century. The object of study is a series of fictional letters written by child characters in The Friend of Youth (Ungdommens Ven), a weekly periodical published for children in 1770. The editor of The Friend of Youth reveals his views on the nature of childhood by demonstrating how he thinks children write and how they should write. He publishes letters he claims to have received from his readers, which he discusses at length. In order to highlight an important and new genre in children's literature during the eighteenth century, this article will analyze these letters and the editor's comments and replies. [End Page 189]

Definitions of Children's Literature

The education/amusement divide is famously described on the first page of F. J. Darton's history of children's literature:

By "children's books" I mean printed works produced ostensibly to give children spontaneous pleasure, and not primarily to teach them, nor solely to make them good, nor to keep them profitably quiet. I shall therefore exclude from this history, as a general rule, all schoolbooks, all purely moral or didactic treatises, all reflective or adult minded descriptions of child-life, and almost all alphabets, primers, and spelling books.

(Darton 1)

Darton does not explain how he decides whether or not a writer or a publisher intends to give children pleasure or to educate them. Prefaces to publications for children in late eighteenth-century Denmark often explicitly show an intention to combine education and amusement. German research in children's literature has long presented an alternative to the education/entertainment divide. In 1982, the Handbuch zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Von 1750 bis 1800 edited by Theodor Brüggemann and Hans-Heino Ewers was published. It contains an annotated bibliographic listing of a majority of early German children's literature, including long descriptions of single works and a lengthy and thorough introduction to children's literature of the period. In the introduction it is argued that definitions of children's literature must take into account the context and historical period in which the literature was produced. The editors suggest using the descriptive term intentional children's literature as a starting point. From their perspective, children's literature in the period 1750–1800 is to be understood as "texts explicitly directed at children" including "adult literature adapted for children" and finally "texts made by children themselves" if they are addressed to children (Brüggemann 4).1

Whether it was the authors', translators', or editors' intention to address children is often explicitly revealed in the title, subtitle, or pre- or postscripts to the books. The editors also draw attention to the importance of differentiating between the use of "text" and "literature" in relation to eighteenth-century works published for children. They point to the fact that not until the last third of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 189-201
Launched on MUSE
2009-05-23
Open Access
No
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