WARDS, AND LOST CHILDREN: EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FACTS AND FICTIONS"
Cheryl L. Nixon
studies a figure central to the eighteenth-century novel: the orphan,
ward, or lost child. Many
of the eighteenth-century novel's best known protagonists, including
Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Evelina, and Fanny Price, fit this description
could be featured in this course. In his recent The English Novel in
History, 1700-1780, John Richetti emphasizes the novel's ability to "render
individuals as (potentially) both socially constructed and individually
defined" (8). The orphan--an individual left alone to negotiate
the social world--obviously heightens the connections and tensions between
these aims of the novel. The orphan allows the novel to ask elemental
questions about the self (who am I if I have no parents?), society (will
I be cared for, accepted, or rejected by those around me?), and family,
which typically mediates the relationship between the two (do I need
familial structure and how do I recreate it?). As he or she articulates
a desire for these institutions, the orphan reveals the instability inherent
to them. This course, then, examines how the novel attempts to create
narrative structure through this destabilizing figure, exploring how
orphan plot emphasizes the novel's capacity for both formal realism and
seeks to complicate the analysis of the orphan plot by placing orphan
fictions alongside orphan
facts. Along with the rise of the novel, was there a rise in interest
in the child? More specifically, along with evidencing an interest
the narrative possibilities of the orphan's life story, do these plots
signal an eighteenth-century interest in the real orphan's life? Mortality
rates and the attendant reality of orphaning have been reconstructed
historians. For example, as Peter Laslett has shown, in the seventeenth-century,
approximately 40% of all children would be orphaned before they reached
age 21. In addition, changing definitions of the child has been a topic
of much historical investigation; Philippe Aries' thesis concerning
early modern invention of childhood and Lawrence Stone's thesis concerning
the eighteenth century's invention of the affective family are perhaps
the best known and most hotly debated arguments concerning the child's
centrality to the family. This course hopes to encourage students to
these debates by examining the "lost" child who exists outside
of the affective or nuclear family. As a component of this investigation
into the historical reality of the orphan, the course features secondary
source readings that detail the invention of the foundling hospital,
education of children, and the workings of the apprenticeship system.
The course also places primary historical sources side-by-side with literature,
encouraging students to become excited about the eighteenth century by
allowing them to experience "real" eighteenth-century documents.
In addition to novels such as Moll Flanders and A Simple Story, the course
features a collection of legal documents I have located at the London
Public Records Office and Harvard's Law School. I have used these documents
in a preliminary fashion in other courses; I have simply circulated xeroxed
copies of them. Student response to seeing crime and punishment in the
Old Bailey Records or deciphering handwritten bills from the Chancery
Court has been overwhelmingly positive. I hope to create a simple web-site
that would contain scanned copies of some of the legal documents I have
located, allowing my students--and all students of the eighteenth century--to
incorporate these materials into their study.
I teach at a
small private business school, Babson College, a context that presents
unique challenges to the
English professor who wants to teach literature in a historically- or
theoretically-informed manner. Although I have taught a preliminary
of this course at Babson, I have not yet taught this specific syllabus
and specific materials. My setting requires--indeed demands--innovative
courses which will entice students into an advanced study of literature.
And, once the students have chosen the course, innovative teaching
be used to encourage students to construct a basic understanding of the
texts and, then, complicate those readings. All of my students are
majors; none have the training of a traditional English major. Before
taking an advanced literature course, my students are not required
complete an "introduction to literature" course, a British literature
survey, or an eighteenth-century literature survey (they do complete general
"humanities" coursework). My upper level courses focus on the
eighteenth century, but they can assume no prior knowledge of the century's
literature, history, or concerns. I note the context for this proposed
course simply because it dictates the course's shape: it must focus on
the close reading of the selected literature and historical materials
and it must contain creative assignments in addition to the traditional
analytical papers and exams.
Although this course is an advanced
literature course at a business college, it could be offered as a lower-level
theme-based course to English majors. Alternatively, with added units
containing additional novels, theoretical readings, or research assignments,
this course could serve as a starting point for a more advanced course.
Goal #1: Engage in interdisciplinary
study through use of primary sources
As its overarching goal, this course engages in an interdisciplinary
study of the orphaned child. By studying both fictional and factual orphans,
the course seeks to defamiliarize what has become a standard character-type
and encourage new insights into the cultural meaning of that character.
The course places eighteenth-century novels and eighteenth-century legal
records side-by-side, resulting in an examination of both imagined and
real orphans. We take, as our starting point, the notion that eighteenth-century
literature is, to some degree, representing reality. We then ask how
re-imagines this reality. What does the novel add to or erase from the
orphan's legal reality? How does the novel depict the orphan and his/her
experiences? How does the novel structure the orphan's world? The course
examines the factual and fictional record's role as a source of knowledge
about individual experience and cultural concerns, raising questions
the "real" location of the "real" meaning of the
orphan's story. Students experience a primary-source-rich course, encouraging
to think more carefully about not only the orphan-figure, but the relationship
between fact and fiction.
Goal #2: Understand
events and concerns of "orphan plot"
As its literary goal, the course emphasizes an understanding of the possibilities
of the "orphan plot." The course asks students to recognize
the paradigmatic events and characters of the orphan plot, uncover the
larger cultural hopes, anxieties, and fears voiced by the orphan plot,
and understand the eighteenth-century's role in creating the novelistic
structure of the orphan plot. At the beginning of the semester, with the
help of excerpts from fairy tales and late twentieth-century novels, the
class creates an outline of the narrative elements it feels are essential
to this plot. This plot outlining exercise comprises the first creative
writing assignment in the course; it is performed in small group and results
in short informal presentations. The assignment asks the student to define
the orphan-protagonist, describe additional characters, outline essential
plot events, locate a setting, create a time line, imagine the plot's
resolution, and explain any sort of larger "message" they feel
the plot must articulate. The group then writes one short scene from
imagined narrative that follows their paradigmatic outline, enacting
the groups' choices concerning the age and gendering of protagonist,
or exotic setting, and the cautionary or subversive tone, for example.
The course then
investigates the eighteenth-century novel's construction of these plot
elements. Featured novels include Moll
Flanders, Millenium Hall, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, and A Simple
Story (of course, this list can be expanded to include other titles).
Students consider how and why each novel adds variation to their simplified
plot structure. I provide lectures on the "rise of the novel"
and eighteenth-century culture, but most of our class time is spent in
discussion triggered by each novel's narrative structure and thematic
content. After reading the first eighteenth-century novel (here, Moll
Flanders), students write their first analytical paper. For this paper,
students must formulate and answer a basic question concerning a plot
event and its larger meaning; the assignment encourages students to formulate
their own questions, but also provides sample topics, such as "How
does a child define him/herself when they are orphaned," "What
happens to a child when he/she must navigate the world without the help
of parents," or "What replacement family structures are created
for the missing parents?" The students' questions and answers are
summarized in a class discussion, encouraging students to remember them
and see if and how they change for subsequent books.
Goal #3: Investigate historical record of orphan experience
As the class reads the selected novels, it also works towards a historical
understanding of the situation of real orphans, wards, and lost children.
Students read excerpts from works such as Stone's The Family, Sex, and
Marriage in England, 1500-1800, Laslett's "Parental Deprivation"
in Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations, Davidoff and Hall's
Family Fortunes, George's London Life in the Eighteenth Century, and Low's
The Regency Underworld. After we have gained a basic understanding of
the historian's reconstruction of the eighteenth-century family, the class
turns to primary documents. Selected Old Bailey Records, Chancery Court
manuscripts, English Reports, and manuscript family records are paired
with the appropriate novel. By making these documents available to the
class, I help the students to position themselves as amateur historians,
question-askers, and answer-constructers. The course asks students to
decipher these documents in a variety of settings: alone, with a partner,
or in an in-class workshop. Ultimately, the course also encourages students
to interpret these documents in a variety of ways: for example, does a
guardianship ledger-account from the Court of Chancery evidence an "cruel"
non-emotional definition of the orphan or a "kind" economic
trusteeship of the orphan?
I ask students
to engage in a second creative writing exercise that requires a line-by-line
imitation of the
historical record. Students "translate" one of Moll Flanders'
crimes into a Old Bailey Record, imitating the Records' formal qualities.
Then, they translate one of the entries in the Record--a real criminal
committing a real crime--into a novelistic passage written in Defoe's
style. To help students become comfortable with the imaginative possibilities
of primary source research, they will share their "Moll Flanders/Old
Bailey Records" creative writing imitations.
Later in the
semester, students present summaries of subsequent primary documents
in a series of brief informal
speeches. I have xeroxed manuscript Chancery court cases, located at
the PRO, and I give each student his or her "own" case to decipher.
The informal speeches prove the student's ability to read eighteenth-century
hand and understand the content of the case. These speeches serve as a
first draft for the students' second paper, which provides an interpretation
of the document. This paper summarizes the primary source, provides a
well-reasoned interpretation of the source, gestures towards alternative
interpretations of the text, and explains unresolved questions or concerns
raised by the document. As these materials are unique to my research,
this assignment would be hard to reproduce in another classroom; however,
this type of juxtaposition of primary sources with the novel can be modified
to include readily available print sources. If a professor seeks a legal
exploration of the orphan, I can imagine a course using Blackstone's Commentaries'
chapter on wards, which could be easily connected to A Simple Story. If
a professor wants to use non-legal primary sources, I can imagine juxtaposing
conduct book material or debates concerning the education of children
with Millenium Hall. This speech and paper assignment encourages students
to "get into" eighteenth-century culture by getting into non-literary
source material, allowing them to approach fact with the open-ended interpretive
process previously applied to fiction.
Goal #4: Question meaning of orphan
in fact and fiction
This course opens by asking many basic questions concerning orphans,
wards, and lost children. Why is fiction filled with stories of lost
What does it mean to not have a family? Why is an orphaned child typically
confronted with an evil stepmother or incestuous guardian? Is this because
the orphan is a "real" phenomenon and these are "real"
experiences? Is this because the orphan is a handy device which can be
used to raise larger questions about family structure, parental responsibility,
and the child's coming of age? If orphans were "real" in the
eighteenth century, how is their story developed in the developing novel?
And, if orphans are less prevalent today, why are their stories still
familiar (so much so that we can hum their story in songs from "Oliver,"
"Annie," and "Peter Pan"!)? This course closes by
revisiting these basic questions and asking students to answer them by
reflecting on the factual and fictional records they have read.
For their final open-topic analytical
paper, students must wrestle with a concern that illuminates one of the
larger questions of the class. This paper is aided by a final week of
in-class writing workshops. This paper does not require secondary research
beyond what has been provided in the class, but it must examine the historical
situation of children by comparing a primary source's description of an
orphan to a specific literary representation of an orphan.
The simplified syllabus provided at
the end of this proposal lists some of the novel's thematic concerns,
which I use to organize this course. I have created three central units,
each taking its focus from plot elements:
Orphan as Familial and Social Outcast
·II. The Institutional and Surrogate Care of the Orphan
·III. The Orphan's Search for a "Real" Family
Each week has specific thematic sub-topics listed; these sub-topic correspond
to the novel being read. For example, for the weeks devoted to Millenium
Hall, the sub-topics include "The Institution for Lost Children,"
"The Guardian's Control of the Ward," and "The Orphan's
Reunion with the Parent."
In addition, the subjects addressed
by the legal sources are used to organize the course. Each unit also contains
a legal label:
·I. The Orphan in Criminal Records
·II. Guardianship Records of Trusteeship and Marriage Consent
·III. Child Custody and Welfare Law
Again, the specific legal records and legal topics to be discussed are
listed for each week. These legal concerns reflect my own research interests.
As stated above, the legal material could easily be replaced with alternative
eighteenth-century cultural texts, such as conduct books, educational
texts, or art works that emphasize the child.
As explained above, the course encourages
·Engage in interdisciplinary study through the use of primary sources
·Understand the events and concerns of the "orphan plot"
·Investigate the historical record of orphan experience
·Question the meaning of the orphan in fact and fiction
As explained above, the course will
require students to:
·Participate in class discussion
·Experiment with a group creative writing assignment, defining
the orphan plot
and writing a sample scene.
·Experiment with a short creative writing "imitation," rewriting
as an Old Bailey Record.
·Write a 5-page paper addressing a structuring element of the orphan
·Give an informal speech summarizing a primary legal source
·Write a 5-page paper, based on the informal speech, summarizing
interpreting a primary legal source
·Write a 10-page final paper addressing a central course concern
(in order of assignment)
Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Charles Perrault, Selected Fairy Tales
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
Sarah Scott, Millenium Hall
Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
Elizabeth Inchbald, A Simple Story
(list can be added to/changed)
Current Novels (excerpts):
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Primary Source Materials (xerox packet):
Old Bailey Records
Chancery Court Master's Reports
Manuscript family records
Secondary Source Materials/Criticism Articles (selections are reproduced
in a xerox packet, others are placed on reserve):
Anderson, Michael. Approaches to History of the Western Family 1500-1914.
Aries, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life.
Ben-Amos, Ilana Krausman. Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England.
(New Haven, 1994).
Bowers, Toni. The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture,
1760. (Cambridge, 1996).
George, M. Dorothy. London Life in the Eighteenth Century. (London, 1925).
Donzelot, Jacques. The Policing of Families. (Baltimore, 1997).
Davidoff, Leonore and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women in
English Middle Class, 1780-1859. (Chicago, 1987).
Earle, Peter. The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society
Family Life in London, 1660-1730. (London, 1989).
Flint, Christopher. Family Fictions: Narrative and Domestic Relations
1688-1798. (Stanford, 1998).
Haggerty, George E. Unnatural Affections: Woman and Fiction in the Later
Century. (Indiana, 1998).
Langford, Paul. A Polite and Commercial People, England 1727-1783. (London,
Laslett, Peter. "Parental Deprivation" in Family Life and Illicit
Love in Earlier
Generations: Essays in Historical Sociology. (Cambridge, 1972).
Low, Donald A. The Regency Underworld. (Wiltshire, 2000).
Richetti, John. The English Novel in History, 1700-1780. (London, 1999).
Stone, Lawrence The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. (New
Waller, Maureen. 1700: Scenes from London Life. (New York, 2000).
Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. (Berkeley, 1957).
Wrigley, E.A. and R.S. Schofield. The Population History of England, 1541-
1871: A Reconstruction. (London, 1981).
Zomchick, John P. Family and the Law in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: The
Private Conscience in the Private Sphere. (Cambridge, 1993).
Unit I. Introduction: Orphans in Fact
Week 1: Orphan, Wards, Lost Children:
The Paradigmatic Plot
Selected Fairy Tales
Excerpts from Harry Potter
Excerpts from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Week 2: Orphans, Wards, Lost Children:
The Basic 18th C Historical Situation
Selected Secondary Articles
Creative Writing Assignment #1: Outline the Orphan Plot
Unit II: The Novel: The Orphan as Familial and Social Outcast
Legal Records: The Orphan in Criminal Records
Week 3: The Orphan's Search for Family
Old Bailey Records: The Child in the Courtroom
Week 4: The Orphan's Turn to Crime
Old Bailey Records: Theft
Creative Writing Assignment #2: Imitate the Old Bailey Record and Defoe
Week 5: The Orphan as Parent of Orphans
Unit III: The Novel: The Institutional and Surrogate Care of the Orphan
Legal Records: Guardianship Records of Trusteeship and Marriage Consent
Week 6: The Institution for Lost Children
Secondary Sources on the Foundling Hospital (Coram's Children)
Week 7: The Guardian's Control of the
Chancery Court Master's Reports: Marriage Consent, Incest
Week 8: The Orphan's Reunion with the
Chancery Court Master's Reports: Child Custody
Week 9: The Guardian's Protection
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
Chancery Court Master's Reports: Trusteeship
Week 10: The Guardian as Role Model
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
Chancery Court Master's Reports: Trusteeship
Week 11: The Orphan's Negotiation of
the Social World
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
Unit IV: Fiction: The Orphan's Search for a "Real" Family
Legal Records: Child Custody and Welfare Law
Week 12: The Orphan who Breaks the Rules
A Simple Story
English Reports: Child Custody
Week 13: The Disobedient Mother/The
A Simple Story
English Reports: Maintenance, Education
Week 14: The Lost Child's Test of the
A Simple Story
English Reports: Child Welfare
Week 15: Conclusion
In-Class Writing Workshops