Introduction: Eighteenth-Century Childhoods and Literary Cultures
The eighteenth century has long been regarded as a watershed period in the history of both childhood and children’s literature. It saw the rapid growth of a specialized text industry addressing young readers, and at the same time, the child became increasingly visible and important in a range of ‘adult’ discourses. Philippe Ariès’s now more than a half-century-old assertion that the child, as differentiated subject with its own needs and material culture, did not exist in Europe before the seventeenth century has rightly and usefully been critiqued, as has J. H. Plumb’s famous celebration of a ‘new world of children’ in the eighteenth century. Yet the fact remains that, certainly and most notably within the more privileged segments of English society, experiences of childhood for many changed significantly in the period this volume considers, as did the ways in—and extent to—which the child circulated within literary culture.