Kanchana Ugbabe


It is assumed that before about the middle of the seventeenth century the symbol of the child or indeed any sort of awareness of childhood was non-existent in the Western world, the child being then a shadowy figure, existing in the periphery, unimportant, therefore unattended. 'Rational man in conflict with an impersonal universe was the theme of pre-romantic literature,' writes the critic of Henry James, 'the unformed, unthinking child had no role to play in it.'^ Peter Covene/s observation on the treatment of children as subsidiary elements in an adult world is that 'until the last decades of the eighteenth century the child did not exist as an important and continuous theme in English literature/^ Not only among literateurs but even among social historians, the child seems to have been rated insignificant. Peter Laslett, while recognizing the fact that children were abundantly present in preindustrial times, notes,



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