From Wild Fictions to Accurate Observation: Domesticating Wonder in Children’s Literature of the Late Eighteenth Century
The ‘rational’ writing for children produced at the end of the eighteenth century has long been attacked as inhibiting children’s imaginative capacity by offering one-dimensional didacticism rather than fostering wonder. This chapter challenges that perception by exploring the role that wonder played in the authors of supposedly ‘rational’ children’s literature: Charlotte Smith, John Aikin and Anna Letitia Barbauld, and Priscilla Wakefield. Exploring the concept of ‘wonder’ in this period, this chapter argues that it played a key role in children’s moral and intellectual development. For the writers discussed, wonder could be experienced through localized acts of observation, which intensify children’s consciousness of the world around them. In turn, this heightened awareness generates self-reflection, enabling children to see themselves as social and moral subjects.