Holy the Firm---nonfiction narrative
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The eighteenth century has been described as “the age of” a number of things: reason, change, enlightenment, and sensibility, to name but a few. Germans described the eighteenth century as a pedagogical age, and this moniker seems particularly apt in the context of both attitudes toward children and the experience of childhood. Educational treatises abounded in the period, and many at least attempted, in the Enlightened spirit of the age, to render the education of children systematic and scientific. In her introduction to Practical Education (1798), Maria Edgeworth hailed the elevation of children’s education to “its proper station in experimental philosophy.”
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Another political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was arguably just as influential as Locke on the various discourses of childhood in the latter part of the eighteenth century. His account in Émile (1762) of the “natural” education of the fictional titular character was controversial, considered even irreligious by some critics. The method of education he outlined was also quite impracticable, as it involved the veritable isolation for years of the boy and his tutor in the country, far from the rest of society, where he could learn from nature and for himself. Like Locke, Rousseau was interested in education as a means of producing self-sufficient individuals who would make good citizens in a new society. To become the good adult citizen, however, the child Émile must endure the invasive and constant supervision of his tutor. Further, Rousseau’s model of education and citizenship is only intended for males. Nonetheless, the idea that children were by nature good and were only corrupted by exposure to society became a staple of Romantic thinking.
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In Living by Fiction (1982), I compared surface flatness—then requisite in painting—to attempts to move literature in the same postmodernist direction. I presented my theory about why flattening of character and narrative cannot happen in literature as it did when the visual arts rejected deep space for the picture plane. In the process of writing this book, I talked myself into writing an old-fashioned novel. The result was The Living (1992).