- Chivalric Stories as Children’s Literature: Edwardian Retellings in Words and Pictures by Velma Bourgeois Richmond
Battles and conquests, dragons and knights make for interesting stories. Indeed, as notable medieval and Renaissance scholar Velma Richmond notes, tales of courage and exciting adventures have attracted readers for centuries. Chivalric Stories as Children’s Literature follows in the literary footsteps of Richmond’s previous academic works Chaucer as Children’s Literature (2004) and Shakespeare as Children’s Literature (2008), both of which explore the retelling as children’s literature of works conventionally read by adults. The present volume explores texts primarily created, printed, and marketed to a juvenile audience from the turn of the twentieth century to the First World War, although it is by no means restricted to the books published during that era.
Part 1 contains five chapters that contextualize the Edwardian age and the challenges it presents to academics, as a period of study that is not only short but also full of change. In the first few chapters, Richmond explores the Victorian fascination with Romance, whereby chivalric masculinity was set against an essentially “feminine” monastic Christianity, and racial identity was based on blood, color, and citizenship. The moral purpose of literature is reiterated in each chapter. The tales of medieval romance, originally told “specifically to civilize the knightly class,” invariably celebrate courtesy, mercy, modest decorum, character, and bravery, all of which were considered important ideals for acculturating the young into society. However, chivalric stories retold for children were not exclusively medieval. In fact, chapter 3 examines the works of such famous nineteenth-and twentieth-century authors as Walter Scott, Alfred Tennyson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Morris in great detail, with special focus on their use of nostalgia and hope. The last two chapters in this section deal with scholarly and popular antecedents that were originally intended for adults, but revised (often with a note) for children. These include collections, black-letter editions, and chapbooks that today would be considered crossover texts. Chapter 5 discusses Edwardian children’s access to these collections, its main focus being design and publishing, and the market in England and Scotland as well as in America.
In part 2, Richmond deals exclusively with chivalric stories written for children. Chapter 6 is dedicated to English/British collections, including H. J. Harvey Darton’s A Wonderbook of Old Romance (1907), M. I. Ebutt’s Hero Myths and Legends of the British Race (1910), M. Dorothy Belgrave and Hilda Hart’s Children’s Stories from Old British Legends (1921), and Harriet Buxton Barbour’s Old English Tales Retold (1924), to name a few. Chapter 7 details the works of Constance Elizabeth Maud, Christine Chundler, Grace Greenwood, Elizabeth W. Grierson, and others who wrote stories for children based on popular English and Scottish ballads [End Page 213] and songs. European and mixed collections are described in chapters 8 and 9, respectively. Each of these chapters not only describes the design of the books, stories, and illustrations, but also highlights the primary aim of the literature: to foster a sense of racial and national identity for both child and adult readers. The manly ideal of chivalry and notions of friendship and brotherhood are pervasive in stories of favored heroes. This is true across timelines and national boundaries, as discussed in chapter 10, from C. L. Thomson’s Adventures of Beowulf (1899) to Valentine in S. R. Little-wood’s Valentine and Orson (1919). These ideals are further reiterated in chapter 11, which discusses the role of chivalric stories in pedagogy and schoolbooks in an attempt to influence child readers. Richmond’s final chapter, “Remembering the Stories of Childhood,” enumerates the effects that chivalric stories had on soldiers during the First World War and, conversely, the effect war had on the stories; although the war challenged traditions of honor and chivalry, “allusions to children’s literature provided contexts for current events” (334).
Richmond attempts to fill a lacuna in an area of literary studies that has not been broadly recognized despite the obvious popularity...