Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-vsgnj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-19T06:20:29.516Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Chapter 13 - A Literary Life: A Transatlantic Tale of Vivacity, Rousing Curiosity and Engaging Affection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Louise Joy
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Jessica Lim
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Get access

Summary

A literary life is a happy life, as Eliza Fenwick (1766–1840) makes clear in the title of her 1805 novel for children, Visits to the Juvenile Library: Knowledge Proved to be the Source of Happiness. There on the shelves of the actual early nineteenth-century children’s bookshop to which she alludes in the title – Tabart’s Juvenile Library on New Bond Street in London – both the knowledge and the happiness temptingly featured in the story are available for purchase. But it is not quite that easy: to be literate, it is first necessary to become literate. And therein lies the plot.

Fenwick’s novel centres on enticing five recently orphaned reluctant child readers into the rewards of a literary life. As they had been raised in Jamaica, the spoiled (White) children of plantation-owners, they had been accustomed to having an enslaved person attending to every whim. Because their early schooling had been at the hands of a sadistic ‘master’, they had learned to equate education in general and reading in particular with punishments typically inflicted on the enslaved. That is why, when they arrive in London, with their (enslaved) nanny, Nora, to the guardianship of ‘the good Mrs. Clifford’, as she is always called in the story, they want nothing to do with literate life. They are suffering, as the title of the first chapter clearly states, from ‘The Mistakes of Ignorance’, their misery stemming from the fact that they had never learned to be ‘excited to activity of mind or body’ (p. 7). In diagnosing their ills, the good Mrs Clifford notes that it is equally difficult ‘to rouse the curiosity of these children or to engage their affections’ (p. 5). Her challenge is to disabuse them of the idea that education is a form of punishment defined by ‘the terrors of rods, canes, dark closets and stocks’ (to use Nora’s terms), and to coax them into recognising being literate as a good thing (p. 15). In the novel, all ends happily as the children, and their enslaved nanny Nora, discover that becoming literate is physically, intellectually and emotionally rewarding. Teaching people to become literate has of course long been at the heart of the educational project, though the word ‘literacy’ itself did not come into being until 1883 (OED). It would have been alien to Eliza Fenwick and her late-Enlightenment contemporaries.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×