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Title: Romanticism, Childhood, and the Poetics of Explanation
Authors: Selinger, Liora
Advisors: Wolfson, Susan J.
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Childhood
Subjects: Literature
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Romanticism, Childhood, and the Poetics of Explanation investigates British Romantic- era literary experiments that reinvented ways of “explaining.” I argue that reworkings of the rhetoric of “explanation” responded to new ideas about childhood as well as to interactions with real children. Positioned between the discourses of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British pedagogy’s intentions to “explain” on the one hand, and British Romanticism’s commitments to imagination and elusive experiences on the other, the authors of this study developed new verbal forms that invited children into a collaborative process of discovery in moments of uncertainty.While contemporary ideas of childhood increasingly emphasized differences between the capacities of children and adults, the authors of this study found crucial points of alliance in adults’ and children’s shared attempts to understand. By highlighting moments in texts in which adults are called to explain to children what they themselves cannot understand—God, death, aesthetic taste, elusive memory—I reveal articulations of new ideas of childhood and new ways of knowing, ones that acknowledge the insight and subjectivity of even the youngest children while recognizing the fallibility and uncertainty of adults. Tracing an arc from Isaac Watts to Anna Barbauld, Mary Lamb, William Wordsworth, Thomas De Quincey, and finally Lewis Carroll, I tell the story of ways in which literature—for its verbal experimentation and its status as material for communication—became the medium through which new philosophies of education and of childhood were made possible. This story involves the under-reported productions of practical educators who confronted the limits of explanation with real children. Some are canonical Romantic poets, whose interactions with real children add new dimensions to our understandings of their philosophies of childhood. Others are domestic pedagogical writers (often women) whose literary imaginations lent significant aesthetic bases to works designated for instructional ends. My study, therefore, illuminates the underacknowledged influence on canonical Romantic poetry of imaginative writers’ domestic interactions with actual children, while showing the aesthetic basis of key works of pedagogy. Romanticism, Childhood, and the Poetics of Explanation illuminates a literary prehistory of student-centered education and situates Romantic formal experimentation within a pedagogical context.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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