About the Book
Children literature as a genre has not received much attention from the academic world in India up till now. This collection of essays and articles is an attempt to look at the shape of writing for children from the nineteenth century onwards and to questions include the conundrum of weather (and how) childhood and its books have been ‘invented’ by publishers and writers and how and from what sources literature of the child has been produced and presented.
This includes the vexed question of textbooks and their relationship to the State, the imperial context and the creation of the categories of Subject and ruler in Child readers the marketing of literature through journals and other media, questions of gender and gendered reading and the complex interplay between real and fictional children.
Focusing on India but raging all over the world, these essays create a foundation and a starting point for discussion on this subject in academic contexts in India. Written by experts in their various fields, the essays cover subjects as diverse as the philosophy behind the Amar Chitra Katha comic books from the 1960s onwards in India, the writings of Lila Majumdar a pioneer writer for girls in Bengali. Rudyard kipling and his imperial animal kingdom. Dhan Gopal Mukerji, winner of the writings of the Newbery Prize for children’s fiction in 1928. Winnie the Pooh as a version of the pulls together the various critical strands implicit in the book and situates Indian scholarship on the map of genre theory providing students with a handy points of reference.
About the Author
Rimi B Chatterjee is Senior Lecturer in English at Jadavpur University She is also a writer of fiction. City of Love is her most recent novel.
Nilanjana Gupta is Professor of English at Jadavpur University. She has also authored/edited books on ghost stories including one for children
In every society, the notion of children’s literature evolves only after the ‘child’ is understood as a separate category with its own distinct needs, demands and desires. In Europe, it is during the Enlightenment that we first find concerns about the ‘child’ as a separate entity. Social philosophers like Rousseau brought forth the issue of the child and its need to be nurtured into social awareness, and this notion was quickly transformed in the Romantic poems of Words worth, Coleridge and of course Blake. Wordsworth’s phrase ‘The Child is Father of the Man’ from the poem ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ (written in 1802) is probably one of the most quoted lines of poetry ever written and has been interpreted and used not only by inquirers into all shades of child psychology, but by anyone who wants to emphasise the importance of childhood in the formation of the adult. This stands contrast with an older Judeo-Christian idea of the child as a being filled with the ‘old Adam’ and implicated in Original Sin, which had to be removed by baptism, indoctrination, discipline d penance, which the new Romantic conception of the child ‘trailing clouds of glory’ gradually replaced. Wordsworth’s ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ (1807) is probably one of the best- known examples of the Romantic belief in the innocence of the new-born infant that gradually fades away. The poet’s celebratory vision of the child is captured in lines such as:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy ...
This notion of the child as naturally good and innocent leads to the idea that particular care should be given to the child’s growth in every aspect of his life. We use the male pronoun advisedly as almost all discussions in this period centre around a distinctively male child. As the rate of literacy grew and children began going to school or had tutors at home, the need for suitable reading material for children was addressed in a variety of ways. The first attempts usually consisted of making collections from available material and claiming them to be appropriate for children. In England, chapbooks, ballads and rhymes cheaply printed and circulated were edited and printed as reading material for the ‘nursery’ from early modern times onwards. Gargi Gangopadhyay’s article in this book captures some of the ways in which these processes functioned.
This ‘encyclopedie’ or encircling of the child with knowledge began commonly with a ‘cleanup’ or relabelling and repackaging of folk tales in oral circulation as reading material for children. This is an intriguing notion, as most folk tales were full of descriptions of things that we would not today consider fit for children to read, such as gory violence, sex and crime. The original collection by the Brothers Grimm is very different from the collections that we find reprinted and reworked, via Charles Perrault’s carefully sanitised late-seventeenth-century retellings, for children today. Yet the idea that folk tales are appropriate reading for children seems to be quite prevalent across cultures. There is in this perhaps an idea similar to ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ –narratives from the ‘childhood’ of the race are regarded as suitable for the ‘childhood’ of individuals, thus re-enacting in miniature the making of the general in the particular. This is reflected in the book Children 5 Literature in India published by the Children’s Book Trust, which in the chapter titled ‘A Historical Survey’ states unproblematically that:
Every publisher looking for material to publish draws upon this unquestioned resource material so that the Indian epics, ancient lore, classical tales, folk tales, the Panchatantra form the bulk of children’s literature today. These stories are full of timeless worldly wisdom and play a recurring role in stimulating the imagination.
Gabi R. Kath6fer’s article points out the relationship between the need to invent a tradition of folklore and the birth of nationalism. Folk tales were used to create a body of ancient cultural traditions that was central to the project of nationalism, within which there was a need to include the child. The child becomes the focus of the process of creating a new consciousness: that of the citizen of the nation. Thus the collections of folk tales already have an element of nostalgia about them, an air of a past, while simultaneously representing a set of values considered to be essential for the successful establishment of the nation. They are also ‘written backwards’: they project into that past a sense of what sort of past the present ought to have, and how that past should be read by the good citizen.
In the nineteenth century, with the growing interest in psychology in general, and child psychology in particular, the issue of what should constitute children’s literature became more vexed. The idea that children can be taught particular kinds of behaviour, which then persist throughout adult life, made society more apprehensive about what was being disseminated to children through books. Books or advice manuals like Hints for the Nursery (1866) caution the mother about the influence of servants who use stories to frighten children into submission, which, they alleged, could adversely affect the child’s mental well-being and eventually even lead to insanity.
The basic paradox that underlies all discussions about children’s literature is, after all, the fact that the literature is written by adults, published by adults and bought by adults, while the child-consumers have very little to say about the entire process. Thus, the literature produced for children in any era actually reveals much more about adult preoccupations and fears than it does about the child’s. In the Victorian period we find children’s literature being used consciously to disseminate desired values and ideologies in the minds of the impressionable young. Like Victorian society itself, children’s literature becomes almost obsessed with defining appropriate gender roles for its young citizens and we see the explosion of boy’s adventure stories, juvenile magazines and books meant to imprint upon young minds the image of the dashing, intrepid hero, while girls were taught domestic, caring and nurturing roles. Britain’s position in the world in the nineteenth century as the most puissant imperial power depended upon the availability of young boys who could uphold and carry forward the imperial project. Abhijit Gupta’s study of the publishing history of Victorian children’s periodicals gives us a glimpse of the actual role played by market forces as they responded to and determined the choice of reading material for children and young adults at this point in history.
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