Perceptions of Children

Children's Literature of the Eighteenth Century

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Prominent Schools of Thought

Topics of Instruction

Our Story

Children's stories of the eighteenth century were primarily didactic in their purpose. On this page, we attempt to illustrate what schools of philosophy influenced the content of such literature, as well as the types of things children's literature tried to teach.


Prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Britons did not think of childhood as a separate stage of development. Instead, they looked at children simply as small adults. Check out the painting on the left that demonstrates such an attitude.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, adults began to look at their children differently. New philosophies such as John Locke's theorized childhood as distinctly separate from adulthood, and such ideas proliferated.Take a look at another painting that illustrates such a perception. During the eighteenth century in particular, the English began to perceive children as imprintable individuals who could be taught morals and conduct. To support this new thinking, authors began to write literature for children with the intent of teaching them. The goal of children's literature was didactic.

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Prominent Schools of Thought

The eighteenth century was greatly influenced by varying philosophies of the day. Three in particular stand out as influencing adult's perceptions of children.


In this model, children's personalities were controlled by forces beyond human control.


This model held that infant's minds were "blank slates" and that adults could imprint upon them whatever they wished.

Children as Inherently Good

This model stressed the inherent goodness of each child. According to such thinking, the child is best educated if allowed personal freedom of growth and thought, independent from the corrupting influence of evil adult institutions.

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Topics of Instruction

With more popular philosophies expounding the notion that children could be molded, children's literature became instructional. Three types of instruction were particularly prominent.

Religious Instruction

Especially in the earlier parts of the eighteenth century, children's literature was devoted to religious pursuit. This emphasis on religious instruction, however, gave credibility to authors later in the century who sought to also stimulate the imaginations of the young with stories of various genres.

Class Divisions

Throughout the eighteenth century, the divisions between the classes became more and more blurred as the middle class began to encroach upon the aristocracy. The upper classes retaliated by enforcing class divisions wherever they could. Children's literature of the period assisted such attempts to enforce class differences.

Gender Constructs

During the eighteenth-century, children's literature reflected and instilled many of the cultural norms concerning gender roles. In particular, the female perception in literature evolved towards more influential agent of social change.

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Our Story

In summary, we offer our own original children's story, the Adventures of Little Tom. We borrow from eighteenth century traditions, trying to incorporate elements we've discussed (as well as others). In addition, we've attempted to follow the basic form of a children's story written in the eighteenth century.

End Notes



This page was created by Jocelyn Kim, Andrew Wong, and Jean Wong, on 16 April 1999

for the course, English 430, Winter 1999 at the University of Michigan, led by Prof. David L. Porter.

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