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date: 10 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Enlightenment theorists of education and advocates for children’s literature like John Locke and William Godwin associated reading with the rights-bearing, independent subject who stands at the center of liberal political tradition. This identification would be reiterated over time, including in the early twentieth century by some architects of the discipline of English studies. This essay considers the fault lines in such accounts of reading as an exercise of self-determination. It considers how such book-boosterism tends to falter when it confronts compulsory schooling or the actual process by which literacy is acquired. Child readers, whose books are assigned, that is, foisted upon them by others, trouble the profile these discussions assume of the reader as an independent consumer. At the same time, the solitary child dreaming over a book—and doing so at a remove from the schoolroom—has since Romanticism become one of Anglo-American culture’s privileged emblems of imaginative liberty.

Keywords: Enlightenment, John Locke, William Godwin, civil liberties, children’s literature, schooling, literacy

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