Image Of Childhood In The Literature Of The Enlightenment


The image of childhood is not a subject of one discipline study; this topic is reflected in many disciplines, in philosophy, religion, cultural studies and other sciences. In literature, as in a separate field, the image occupies a special place. In this article, the author studies the theme of childhood in the literature of the Enlightenment. Literature is an important source for studying the world of childhood of a certain people in historical retrospect. The works of Ph. Aries, M. Epstein, E. Yukina, F. Dolto are valuable in this area. For a long time, the topic of childhood has not been researched in science, but after the publication of the work “The child and family life under the old order” by Ph. Aries, the number of works increases dramatically in that area. The great interest of researchers to the childhood‘s history was in the XVII century, since that time the significant changes had been in the attitude to childhood. Those changes were mainly related to the development of education systems. The changes in the attitudes to the world of childhood in the XVII century, first of all, researchers associated with the coming of the Enlightenment and advents of printing. The book gave European society the literature for the development and entertainment. In the era of spiritual development of European society, the attitude to the institution of childhood began to change with the appearance and distribution of books, which gave European civilization textbooks and entertainment literature.

Keywords: Image, childhood, age of Enlightenment, literature


In one of the most famous work about childhood, “The child and family life under the old order”, Ph. Aries identified a certain age group for each historical epoch (Aries, 1999). According to the French historian's opinion, the XVII century – the spring of life, youth; XVIII-XIX centuries - the period of early development of the child, and childhood; XX century-the age of youth, the period’s formation of a teenager.

The book was published in France in 1960 and played a major role in the study of the childhood’s history and it was the first work that was devoted to the study of the world of childhood. In the book, the author set out two main theses: "the first thesis refers to the old traditional society" where the child's upbringing took place outside the family, the second thesis refers to the “new place”, where family and child occupied a special position in the industrial society (Aries, 1999). Ph. Aries was interested in studying the concept of childhood in art and literature, and the development in historical retrospect. The author's study of the childhood’s category began in the XIII century, when the painting with images of children began to flourish. The images of children could be found in frescoes depicting an angel or a little Jesus. But the idea of bringing up and caring for a child, appeared long before the Middle Ages, in Aristotle’s studies you could find the ideas about the child's universe. Ph. Aries’ works were limited to studying the European child from an elite minority of the population. For a long time, the theme of childhood in the Middle Ages was in the shadow of public consciousness due to high mortality (Aries, 1999).

Problem Statement

The change in the state of social mores had been taking place since the end of the XVII century, during that period there was a division of two worlds: adulthood and childhood. Ph. Aries considered the theme of childhood from the perspective of a child's perception, he thought, that childhood was not just one or several epochs, but it was a period of human development (Aries, 1999).

Many researchers accepted the second thesis, but at the same time, “the lack of perception of childhood in the Middle Ages” was perceived with disbelief by many historians. Ph. Aries examined in detail the evolution of childhood in Europe from several sides: firstly, the formation of the child, from infancy to youth, changed in the child’s role in society and the family, where the child, as a result, became the central link; secondly, the formation of the education system as a separate institution of socialization of the child outside the family by analyzing the literature and portraits with the participation of children. Ph. Aries concluded that for a long time, children of both sexes were dressed up in women's outfits. The boy's costume had mostly elements of a woman's dress. In the Middle Ages, the image of a small adult began to prevail, the child was dressed in an adult costume for a long time. That was mainly connected with the doctrine of the presence of embryo cells, the material structures that determined the development of the embryo. Preformism emerged in the XVII-XVIII centuries on the basis of ideas about the development of the embryo. According to that theory, the child was already fully formed and the development of the future newborn was to increase the size until birth.

An opponent of the theory of preformism was one of the founders of embryology, K. M. Baer, who later proved that the development of the organisms began with the embryo. The idea of increasing the size of the embryo ceased to exist in the XVIII century, when it was proved that the development of the embryo occurred in stages. It should be noted that in literature, the theme of childhood was associated with special attention to upbringing and education. J. Locke's "Experience of human understanding", where the author postulated one of his main ideas that a newborn child was a “tabula rasa”, a blank board that adults fulfilled throughout the childhood (as cited in Batarchuk, 2017). Before J. Locke's theory of innate ideas, many philosophers believed that a child was not born with a “pure” consciousness, they believed that the idea of faith in God was innate. R. Descartes argued about the principles of innate ideas, education, according to him, it was the mental development of the world, the only true ways to achieve truth were considered mind and deduction. The other views of R. Descartes, J. Locke considered that there were no innate ideas. He developed the idea that children studied by imitating adults, that many feelings were developed through association, and those many habits were developed through daily repetitive actions (as cited in Gopnik, 2009).

J. Locke paid a great attention to the education and main goal of education, according to his opinion, it was self-control. The main principle of upbringing a child, he believed that the habit developed stronger if the child received praise for their actions. He postulated that “beatings and all other forms of degrading corporal punishment were not appropriate measures of discipline in the upbringing of children”. Those measures had to be used very rarely and for serious reasons or in extreme cases.

Research Questions

The great interest to the problems of education was also focused on one of the main cultural figures of the Enlightenment, J.-J. Rousseau. J.-J. Rousseau believed that everything that happened in a child's life “corresponded to the plan of nature”. According to the philosopher’s opinion, the main teacher in the period of childhood was nature, that developed all the necessary qualities and skills. Childhood occupied a special place in human life, nature directed the child's energy in the right prefer, the development of independence. The child's upbringing had to take place “in harmony with nature”, the child was perfect from the birth and the main task of adults was to preserve that perfection (as cited in Gopnik, 2009).

The novel “Emil” by J.-J. Rousseau was entirely devoted to the topic of child rearing. In the book there were two main characters, Emil and his tutor, who had been raising a child for 25 years and was left an orphan from infancy. When Emil was an infant, his caregiver gave him the opportunity to explore the world, he removed the unsafe items and allowed him to explore the house. The writer believed that education was a great thing and it could create a harmonious and developed personality. Emil studied to walk and talk, his teacher never scolded his student. J.-J. Rousseau described the various methods and lessons that were appropriate for a particular period of the child's development. In those lessons, Emil could evaluate his success on his experience (as cited in Kon, 1988).

The author of “Emil” thought that a child had to remain a kid who had his own views on the world and judgments about it, it was impossible to impose someone else's opinion and views on an unformed person. J.-J. Rousseau did not agree with J. Locke in the study of the soul, in his opinion, first of all, you had to study the capabilities of your body. In the novel “Emil” the teacher gave the lessons of art, he did not require the possession of talent or gift, he put the ability to work with his hands in the first place. J.-J. Rousseau believed that if a person knew how to use his hands, then there were no difficulties for him. The great importance should be given to the education of a person's sense of kindness, humanity, empathy, poor education can disfigure a person. In the “New Eloise”, J.-J. Rousseau expressed the opinion about the period of the beginning of education that “training should begin with the birth of a child. The child had to be treated as befits his age (as cited in Kon, 1988).

The basis of the postulates of J.-J. Rousseau on education was developmental pedagogy, according to the age of the child had to be taught to perform new tasks. Pedagogical tasks had to be completed in stages, each task corresponded to a certain time, which was determined by the age characteristics of the child.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of the research is to study the image of childhood in the literature of the Enlightenment. In the memoirs of the XVI-XVI centuries, there are examples from school life, where at the beginning of each fragment is the age or date and place of birth of the author".

According to research, since the 18th century, priests had filled out parish registers indicating the place and date of birth of the child, “with the accuracy and punctuality required in a modern state from employees who register citizens” in the Middle Ages, children worked on equal terms with adults. The great number of works was related to agriculture and required skill. Children under the age of six learned carpentry and metalworking skills while working (Krasnoslobodtseva, 2009).

Research Methods

The use of a diachronic-synchronous approach to the study of the image of childhood is implemented to consider one object (the image of childhood) in the dynamics of development (diachronic) or different objects simultaneously (synchronous) using the tool of comparative analysis of indicators (Filipova, 2012). The vector of synchronous study of childhood is formed in the historical approach through the parallel correlation of cultural features of the image of childhood in different sources (Sipovskaya, 2015).


J. Locke developed a system of education of the future gentleman, the basis of a system was rationalism and pragmatism. The important tasks of education were: the development of will, discipline and health. In his work “Thoughts on education”, he wrote that “a healthy mind in a healthy body is a brief but complete description of a happy state in this world. A person's happiness or unhappiness is, for the most part, the work of their own hands. The one whose spirit is an unreasonable leader will never find the right path; and the one whose body is unhealthy and weak will never be able to move forward on this path”. J. Locke developed an interesting pedagogical concept, which was based on empirical psychology and the denial of the innate nature of human knowledge. The current issue of the Enlightenment was the question of democratization. The central part of the ideas of Enlightenment was France, where F. Fenelon in the treatise “Education of girls” reflected his pedagogical judgments. He believed that the child's development had to occur naturally, and he considered the authoritarian style of upbringing unacceptable. A free development of the child was the basis of education. He was the first to raise the topic of women's education, about the moral formation of the future mother. The early stage of the child's development had to be accompanied by affection and love from the mother, while not indulging children's whims, but teaching patience from an early age. F. Fenelon said that the admiration of a child could be an impetus to the birth of selfishness and self-love. Learning was not attractive to children in his opinion, so he put forward the idea of alternating play and study. The basis of moral education should had been sincerity and honesty (as cited in Gopnik, 2009).

Another representative of the French Enlightenment was Ch. Rollin, in his main work “Treatise on education”, he put forward ideas about the norms of education and training. He believed that a special training program had to be created for girls, where there could be courses in social manners, French lessons and Economics' training. In primary schools, the education of children from the lower classes had to begin with the teaching of their native language, the study of Ancient Literature and the basics of Mathematics. The main role in the upbringing of the child was assigned to the mentor, who was supposed to teach children morality. The beginning of the struggle against the outdated system of education was associated with the appearance of the “spirit of laws” by S. Louis Montesquieu. S. L. Montesquieu believed that the basis of education should be a democratic national education, where everyone had the right to receive knowledge (Arai, 2006).

Representative of the Russian Enlightenment V. N. Tatishchev in the work “Conversation of two friends about the benefits of science and schools” (1733) came to the conclusion that it was necessary to teach children by age. His essay was based on the idea of teaching young people abroad. The purpose of studying abroad, he believed, that people had to study secular sciences and religious education.

The main role in the reforms of education and upbringing was played by M. V. Lomonosov. He paid a great attention to the upbringing of children, and attached great importance to such qualities as patriotism, hard work, respect, and morality. He created “Regulations” where teachers and students were given training recommendations ( as cited in Howarth, 1989).

During the reign of Peter I, attempts were made to direct the development of education and upbringing systems along the Pan-European path of development. An important stage of development in the Petrine Era was the appearance of various types of schools (Gopnik, 2009).

During the reign of Ekaterina II, a special development of Russian pedagogical thought took place. The head of state turned to the works of European educators to solve pedagogical problems, she was interested in the works of F. Fenelon, J.-J. Rousseau, M. Montaigne and J. Locke (as cited in Howarth, 1989).

D. Diderot's “University plan for Russia” served as the basis for school reform. Moscow University, founded by M. Lomonosov, made a great contribution to the development and implementation of the ideas of education in life. The Manifesto of Russian pedagogy of the XVIII century was a joint work of University teachers, “The method of teaching” (1771), in which the main ideas of teaching were set out. The professors of Moscow University published translations of pedagogical works by J. J. Rousseau and J. Locke (Arai, 2006). J. - J. Rousseau argued that each stage of development had its apogee, the highest point of perfection. He identified four stages of development : 1) infancy (from birth to 2 years), where the baby communicates with the adult world through sensory perception; 2) childhood (from 2 to 12 years), the child is already more independent, he has certain skills (speaking, writing, walking, etc.), intuitive mind, which is associated with feelings and body movement; 3) later childhood (from 12 to 15 years), the transition stage between childhood and adolescence, where the development of the cognitive sphere occurs, they are engaged in solving mathematical problems, developing physical strength; 4) adolescence - the stage where children become members of society, they receive a social status, according to J. - J. Rousseau, adolescence is a “second birth”. During this period, the child changes externally and internally, the process of transition from the world of childhood to the adult's world occurs, and the development of the adolescent cognitively continues (Filipova, 2012). Adolescence marks the beginning of a real social life, before this stage of development, children are prosocial, their interests are made up of their own desires. During adolescence, a teenager is attracted to other young people, they are no longer self-sufficient, and character changes occur. Representatives of the Enlightenment criticized the class system of education and put forward ideas about changing education systems and upbringing in accordance with changing social conditions (Kagan, 1974).


The image of childhood is a research subject of many disciplines, particularly, literature, the literary concept of childhood is a system of images-ideas about childhood, which has been formed under the influence of the socio-historical and literary context in the works of individual writers during a certain historical period. Literary childhood aspect is a system of all properties and features of the image of childhood (as it was formed at the beginning of a certain period) in the specific literature (Petrunina et al., 2018). In the Middle Ages, the inside world of the child and the emotional and psychological features of childhood were not studied by literature. According to Kon (1988), the assignment of the “discovery of childhood” to a definite historical time caused many questions and oppositions of the historians.

However, many scientists accepted that the new epoch, in the XVII - XVIII centuries, was marked by the appearance of a new image of childhood, the growth of interests in the childish culture, a clearer chronological and constructive difference between the child and adult worlds, and, finally, the identification of an independent, social and psychological value for childhood. In the age of Enlightenment, we could notice the formation of interest to children in the literature, but it was mostly educative and it was commonly used in prose (Kosheleva, 1996).


The reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 20-09-00023.


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Cite this article as:

Klimova, E. V. (2021). Image Of Childhood In The Literature Of The Enlightenment. In N. G. Bogachenko (Ed.), Amurcon 2020: International Scientific Conference, vol 111. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 456-462). European Publisher.