- The Children's Book Business: Lessons from the Long Eighteenth Century
The eighteenth century is new again. In the past five years, Broadview Press has issued classroom editions of Sarah Fielding's The Governess and Thomas Day's Sandford and Merton, and Tess Cosslett, M. O. Grenby, Mary Hilton, Jackie Horne, Andrea Immel, Anja Müller, Jill Shefrin, and Michael Witmore have published books on early British children's literature. And when Perry Nodelman in The Hidden Adult, a major theoretical work of broad significance, includes Maria Edgeworth's "The Purple Jar" as one of his six case-study texts alongside classics like Ezra Jack Keats's A Snowy Day, scholars can no longer assume that the first flowering of "real" children's literature began in a post-Alice Golden Age. [End Page 78]
Now Lissa Paul brings us the very engaging The Children's Book Business: Lessons from the Long Eighteenth Century. Paul's book is not an argument-centered monograph. Instead, Paul has written what she calls a book biography, "something that combines good storytelling with historical fact" (2). She foregrounds her writing process, discussing how books such as Marjorie Moon's Benjamin Tabart's Juvenile Library (1990) catalyzed her own research and how she struggled to find a book structure that could capture the strange life of eighteenth-century children's texts. Her telescoping framework enables her to zoom in from literary and visual depictions of the exteriors of bookshops around 1800, to the interiors of these bookshops, to the books in the shop, to the content within the books, to particular women who wrote the books, and finally to the children, then and now, who read them. Despite the deep erudition of Paul's work, her approach and language are reader-friendly, and her chapter titles are irreverent riffs on the eighteenth-century cumulative verse "This Is the House that Jack Built," such as "These Are the Books that Lived in the House that Ben Built" and "These Are the Women Who Wrote the Books that Lived in the House that Ben Built." The Children's Book Business also contains a generous number of illustrations, and Paul eloquently incorporates these illustrations into her discussions. For example, Paul uses images of storefronts to demonstrate how improved window glass production in the mid-eighteenth century made possible a new marketing technique: picture windows with tempting book displays. Paul even embeds her teaching experiences into the text, as when she explains what happened when she presented a controversial picture book about a child-eating monster, Valérie Dayre's L'Ogresse en Pleurs (1995), to squeamish adults as well as to a classroom of Toronto fifth- and sixth-graders. As Paul notes, the children had no difficulties engaging with the text. By contrast, adults are still caught up in the ideology of the Romantic child and so feel the need to keep children innocent and safe.
Paul's exploration of the late eighteenth-century children's book business is built around a basic premise, that the goal of education at the end of the Enlightenment was to develop a thinking and feeling child or, in the words of William Godwin, an "active mind and a warm heart" (4). The concept of the thinking and feeling child has its roots in a Lockean idea of the child as rational and an eighteenth-century emphasis on sensibility as a foundation for moral action. Paul reminds us that if the Enlightenment child is configured in terms of her ability to connect and be part of the world, the Romantic child, by contrast, is venerated for his innocence and ignorance of adult concerns. For almost two centuries, the Romantic child has supplanted the Enlightenment one, probably to the detriment of children who have suffered a bunnies-and-rainbows literature of "endumbment," to use Jack Zipes's term [End Page 79] (qtd. in Paul 4). Paul argues that in the twenty-first century we have finally come full circle. Once again we expect children to develop empathy and the ability to reason...