In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS Centuries ofChildhood: A Social History ofFamily Life. By Philippe Aries. Translated by Robert Baldick. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962. Pp. 447. $8.50. Among the most striking features of art are the many family portraits of the past in which children are shown in the proportions and clothes ofsmall-scale adults. Early obstetrical illustrations even showed the fetus in utero as a miniature adult, often standing up. It was long assumed that, emotionally and intellectually, children functioned on the same principles as the grownups around them, and this picture is still so widespread that a prominent pediatric surgeon, Willard Potts, has found it necessary to emphasize repeatedly that a child is not merely a small adult. The gradual change from this stereotyped physical and psychological image ofinfancy to a more dynamic one is beautifully described in Philippe Aries' Centuries ofChildhood, one ofthe most rewarding books ofrecent publishing history. The book also shows the impermanence ofmany notions that the twentieth-century world has come to assume as valid everywhere and at all times. Thus we read in a chapter entitled "From Immodesty to Innocence": "One ofthe unwritten laws of contemporary morality, the strictest and best respected ofall, requires adults to avoid any reference, above all any humorous reference , to sexual matters in the presence ofchildren. This notion was entirely foreign to the society ofold. The modern reader ofthe diary in which Henry IV's physician, Heroard, recorded the details ofyoung Louis XIII's life is astonished by the liberties which people took with children by the coarseness ofthejokes they made, and by the indecency ofgestures made in public which shocked nobody and which were regarded as perfectly natural ." While the central theme is childhood, the author focuses most sharply on the period ofhis special interest, the ancien régime (before 1789), with an approach almost uniquely his own. As a "demographic historian, . . . struck by the original characteristics of the modern family, [he] felt the need to go back into a more distant past to discover the limits ofthis originality." He found originality rooted in many aspects ofchildhood, such as the changing patterns in school life and education, and even in the rich history ofgames and pastimes. Onthe whole, I agreewith thepublisher'spraise ofthe author asthat rare phenomenon, a serious scholar who writes so colorfully and engagingly that he cannot help attracting the ordinary reader as well as many specialists who will find his book a rich source ofideas and inspiration. The book may well become "a seminal influence in the study ofcontem500 Book Reviews Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1964 porary social institutions in America." The excellent translation is also a remarkable achievement—so good that the reader seldom remembers that French was the original language. The main purpose of this amazing volume is to show that present-day concepts of childhood and family life came into being only very recently. The social separation of adults and children as well as ofchildren ofvarious ages into different types ofschools and various grades began hardly more than four hundred years ago. The author traces this change through paintings and diaries of these four centuries. The amazing realization reached by Mr. Aries that the family has by its increasing closeness stifled rather than fostered the individualism so fervently sought by modern man. But another consequence ofthe growing strength ofthe family was appreciation ofthe value ofprivacy, at least for the married couple whose wedding in the Middle Ages and in rustic communities was often celebrated by the whole community with bawdy customs totally devoid of the ceremoniousness which we have come to attach to weddings. A further very important change in family life took place in the seventeenth century, which began to emphasize equality among siblings at the expense ofthe first-born son who, for centuries, had occupied the most favored position in the family and had often been the cause for an unfortunate career or professional choice ofthe younger ones. The architectural history of the private home reveals another interesting change. In the oldest dwellings the intent seems to have been to crowd the largest possible number ofpersons into whatever space was available, regardless ofsocial class, freely mixing master and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 500-501
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.