Childhood as a Theme in English Literature
- 18th century: the expending meaning of the theme of childhood
- The romantic child of the 19th century
- An ever-increasing number of genres in the 20th century
In 1960, French medievalist and historian Philippe Ariès advanced the hypothesis that the idea of childhood was practically inexistent before the early modern period. The controversy about the existence or absence of the idea prior to that time in history gave rise to a host of studies on childhood. But what does the word "childhood" mean? Our awareness that it refers to a distinct period of human life is natural but how do we determine its duration? How long does childhood last? The common denominator of many studies on childhood is the attempt to grasp its essence, to define the experience of being a child and to explain the nature of children. One of the most important conclusions these studies have drawn is that our notions of childhood have changed. They have been adapted to the changes in our society and to our conceptions of what a child should be. Thus, the ideas about childhood during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries evolved continually. Several writings and literature on this subject tell us more about this evolution.