UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Instruction within entertainment : explicit and implicit religious teachings in children's literature in the nineteenth century Francis, Rebecca Jane


How and what to teach children through stories has been an ongoing topic of debate for centuries. In the nineteenth century, much of this debate was centred around teaching Christian religious practices, and connecting these practices back to moral lessons or social concerns. This thesis traces the changes in the way in which religious teachings are presented in children’s literature throughout the nineteenth century. I argue that the instructional elements of children’s literature do not become less significant over the period, but rather become implicit rather than explicit, and thus invite the implied child reader to make connections and judgements for him- or herself rather than merely accepting what the narrator is saying. I argue that norms surrounding gender, social class and empire are linked back to religious teachings, but that these links become less clear over the course of the century. I make this argument by looking first at domestic children’s fiction in the earlier part of the century by Hannah More, Mary Martha Sherwood, Charlotte Yonge and Hesba Stretton and show that earlier fiction was heavily didactic due to a lack of faith in the child reader’s ability to interpret the text, but that this fiction also went further than simplistic didacticism by creating a spiritually significant space for women in the home. I then examine fantasy novels by Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll and Anna Sewell, arguing that despite being seemingly subversive, fantasy novels do not attempt to question the social class system or the religious teachings that upheld it. The final chapter explores boys’ adventure and school fiction in the works of Thomas Hughes, R. M. Ballantyne, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, and demonstrates that the narrow forms of masculinity supported by earlier texts are questioned by later writers. All of these novels either accept or question social expectations around gender, class and empire while associating these expectations with specifically religious teachings. Ultimately, the movement from explicit to implicit instruction in children’s literature does not signify a decreased interest in religious concerns, but only a change in the way in which religious teaching is presented.

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