Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Parent's Assistant

The Parent's Assistant (1796), by Maria Edgeworth, is a collection of short stories designed for children. It is really a fictionalization of the Edgeworth's educational theories, in that the stories are designed to teach children by practical example. It is full of stories of virtuous young children who learn lessons about industry, patience, tolerance and kindness. It is very 18th-century - I doubt many children these days would take well to the stories - but it was a very modern idea for its time.

I think I enjoyed "Simple Susan" the best, because there is a vile character in that story that definitely deserves what she gets. I also liked "The Orphans" and "The Mimic". "The Mimic" has a wonderfully drawn comic character, Mrs Tattler, and since the children in that story aren't initially as wonderfully good as the other children in the collection, I found it more entertaining.

Despite the sometimes heavy-handed morality, I rather enjoyed reading these stories. For the most part, they are very sweet. And I very much like Maria Edgeworth's educational methods, because she shows a lot of respect for children's innate abilities and intelligence. Very old-fashioned reading, but quite charming in its own way.

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