Pious Girls and Swearing Fathers

Patricia Craig

  • English Children and their Magazines 1751-1945 by Kirsten Drotner
    Yale, 272 pp, £16.95, January 1988, ISBN 0 300 04010 5
  • Frank Richards: The Chap behind the Chums by Mary Cadogan
    Viking, 258 pp, £14.95, October 1988, ISBN 0 670 81946 8
  • A History of Children’s Book Illustration by Joyce Irene Whalley and Tessa Rose Chester
    Murray/Victoria and Albert Museum, 268 pp, £35.00, April 1988, ISBN 0 7195 4584 6
  • Manchester Polytechnic Library of Children’s Books 1840-1939: ‘From Morality to Adventure’ by W.H. Shercliff
    Bracken Books/Studio Editions, 203 pp, £25.00, September 1988, ISBN 0 901276 18 9
  • Children’s Modern First Editions: Their Value to Collectors by Joseph Connolly
    Macdonald, 336 pp, £17.95, October 1988, ISBN 0 356 15741 5

‘An Adventure of Master Tommy Trusty; and his delivering Miss Biddy Johnson, from the Thieves who were going to murder her’: this is the charming title of a story in the first-ever children’s periodical, the Lilliputian Magazine, brought out by John Newbery in 1751, and with its theme of character-moulding (a silly little girl is cured of vanity through suffering a fright) it set the tone for a good deal of juvenile magazine fiction for some time. Right up until the 1930s and Forties, characters in the children’s papers were still being moulded, sometimes with equal suddenness, as defects such as snobbishness or spite were ironed out of them. But it was during the last century that the reformist impulse in children’s authors was at its strongest. Such papers as there were, were full of fearful warnings about the likely outcome of frivolity or disobedience. Give in to naughtiness, the message was, and you will pay dearly for it: after the misdoing (being boisterous on a Sunday, or coveting a pear), as likely as not, comes the deathbed scene – however, Kirsten Drotner tells us, pictures of dying children were sometimes juxtaposed with elephants and giraffes, presumably to keep readers’ spirits from subsiding altogether. Not that all fictional children were seen as wilful – on the contrary, the misbehavers had their counterparts in the horde of priggish young who set about eroding the turpitude of wicked adults, as in the magazine story of 1827 called ‘The Pious Girl and her Swearing Father’: judging by her clinging attitude (she is illustrated with both arms clasped around his neck), he had plenty to swear about.

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