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  • "Girls Aloud";Dialogue as a Pedagogical Tool in Eighteenth-century French Children's Literature
  • Penny Brown (bio)

The development of children's books in France is inseparable from the debates about education that took place throughout the eighteenth century. Some 180 books, articles, projects, and treatises on education were published in the course of the century and their substance and impact has been well-documented (Leith 14). The debates were generated to a large extent by the influence of John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), which was quickly translated into French, and François Fénelon's treatise De l'éducation des filles (1687) and renewed by the impact of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile, ou de l' éducation (1762), an extended case study of a fictional child living in isolation from society with his tutor. They focused on issues such as the nature and capabilities of children, the relative merits of a public or a private (domestic) education, the content of the curriculum, and the question of what children should read. An increasingly important question, stimulated particularly in France by Fénelon's work, was the education of girls. De l'éducation des filles rejected the conventional superficial aristocratic education that provided only religious training and a degree of literacy and social accomplishments and outlined a new scheme of upbringing for girls that taught the skills that they would need as wives, mothers, and useful members of society (some mathematics, household economy and, above all, the cultivation of reason). Like most educational theorists of his time, however, Fénelon disapproved of too much intellectual study for girls and of indiscriminate, and hence potentially pernicious, reading. Many of his ideas, which were motivated by his desire for aristocratic reform, were to become fundamental principles for educationalists in the eighteenth century with respect to the education of children of both sexes (Hunter 83–94). Moreover, like Locke, [End Page 202] Fénelon was one of the first and most influential theorists to advocate blending instruction and amusement in education, and much of subsequent children's literature was influenced by his insistence on making learning a pleasurable experience.

The second half of the century, a period often seen as marking the real beginnings of children's literature in France, saw a burgeoning of books written especially for young readers, which sought to both instruct and to entertain. These new initiatives departed from existing school textbooks, fables, and fairy tales by offering models for everyday living. Many writers appropriated, adapted, and developed Rousseau's views on education, despite, ironically, Rousseau's much quoted opinion that books were "le fléau de l'enfance" (the scourge of childhood) and his statement that the only book he would give a child before the age of eleven was Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (Rousseau 357). Many of these new books were written by women, who not only drew on existing theories of education, but also inscribed in their work their personal experiences with children as mothers, grandmothers, or teachers. Rousseau's advocacy in Emile of the role of mothers as educators of their daughters and his criticism of contemporary parenting had a significant impact not only on the cult of maternity that developed in France after c. 1770, but also on the development of children's books, especially those for girls, which flourished in the second half of the century.1 This paper considers the work of two women, Mme Le Prince de Beaumont and Mme d'Epinay, whose Magasin des enfans [sic] (1754) and Conversations d'Emilie (1774), respectively, focused on the education of girls and were best-selling and highly influential texts both in their day and subsequently. Although their views on pedagogical methods coincided in some respects with those of Rousseau, both women disagreed strongly with his recommendations for the education of girls. Indeed, in the case of Mme d'Epinay, they were the matter of frequent discussion and dispute with him. Rousseau's opinions are conveyed through his depiction of Sophie, Emile's intended future wife, and describe an inferior education based solely on teaching young girls only the attributes that would enable them to fulfill their destiny as wives, mothers...


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