Histoires d’enfants : la puérilité en France, XVIIIe-XIXe siècle

This class will focus on representations of childhood in 18th and 19th-century France. The period was particularly interested in childhood: an accrued concern for educational methods sparked a growing number of books on the topic, children’s literature became increasingly popular, and novels started including sections about their characters’ childhoods.

This course will integrate perspectives from several disciplines on the topic, from famous philosophical books on education (Rousseau’s Emile) to broader questions about the nature of humanity (the case of Victor de l’Aveyron as dr. Jean Itard presents and addresses it). We will read several classics of French children’s literature, from Perrault to the great texts of the 19th century (Jules Verne and the Countess of Ségur).

Readings will also include sections of Les Misérables that highlight child characters (Cosette, Gavroche); the class will pay special attention to the novel’s rendering of and political plea about childhood. Finally, students will work on three writers’ accounts of their own childhoods in autobiographical texts (Stendhal, Vallès, and Sand).

Each class session will include group work as well as a general discussion.