Toronto Metropolitan University

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Crusoe’s Children: Robinson Crusoe and the Culture of Childhood in the Eighteenth Century

posted on 2024-02-29, 17:06 authored by Andrew O'MalleyAndrew O'Malley

That arguably the most influential and enduring work of fiction in the canon of children’s literature, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), should be a story primarily concerning a solitary man on a deserted island and originally intended for an adult readership is in many ways a peculiar phenomenon. Robinson Crusoe was not born a children’s story but was made one by virtue of its sometimes surprising articulation with ideas that were crystallizing around children in the period: how they should be educated, what their relation to their parents should be, and how they were coming to embody, symbolically, both the promise of the future and a longing for the innocence of the past. Within a few decades of its publication, Robinson Crusoe moved quite seamlessly from the arena of more or less ‘serious’ fiction for adults into that of an eighteenth-century children’s print culture focused principally on fulfilling the Horatian, pedagogical mandate of providing ‘instruction with delight’ to the young. Abridgements designed for child readers and adaptations — or Robinsonades — intended to capitalize on the perceived moral and educational value of the original appeared with considerable frequency in the second half of the century. As Richard Barney has documented so effectively in Plots of Enlightenment (1999), the novel was understood almost immediately to have pedagogical merit; Defoe’s story reflected and expanded John Locke’s ideas of a ‘supervisory’ pedagogy outlined in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693).




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