A Question of Class

royal female figure wearing a crown and carrying a sceptre

A Little Pretty-Pocket Book by John Newbery interior page, a drawing of two children reading at a table, the page reads "A little boy and girl reading"

Interior page of A Little Pretty-Pocket Book

By John Newbery, Isaiah Thomas, 1787 (1744)

Children typically have not had equal access to the literature published for them. The groundbreaking juvenile books brought to market by John Newbery in mid-18th-century London were unaffordable for England's working-class families. A century later, as the branch of publishing Newbery helped pioneer continued to grow and diversify, children's books came increasingly to reflect differences in the economic and social status of their intended readers. 

The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens illustrated by John Gilbert interior page, a line drawing of a seated king, the black text underneath the image reads "Xerxes"

Interior page of The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens

By John Gilbert, London, 1843

For upwardly mobile, middle-class English children of the 1840s, an aspirational work such as The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens, celebrating the lives of historical personages of extraordinary destiny, might count as a prized possession.

But for children of the working poor, books like Instructions on Needlework and Knitting served the more pragmatic purpose of teaching a marketable skill. Least likely of all to benefit from the proliferation of Victorian-era children's books were the tens of thousands of truly destitute youngsters who begged in the streets and received, at best, a modicum of free education at one of the charitable "Ragged Schools" first established in London in 1844.


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Nursery Rhymes of England by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps title page

Title page of Nursery Rhymes of England

By James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, Boston, 1842

Nursery Rhymes of England

Written by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps

1842

The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens illustrated by John Gilbert cover, brown leather with black gilded design

Cover of The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens

By John Gilbert, London, 1843

The Royal Alphabet of Kings and Queens

Illustrated by John Gilbert

1843

Instructions for Needle-Work and Knitting title page, black text on cream colored paper

Title page of Instructions for Needle-Work and Knitting

London, 1847

Instructions on Needle-work and Knitting

National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church

1847

Visions of Childhood
A Question of Class