Breaking The Child’s Spirit

Posted on Dec 12, 2010 | 0 comments

There is a striking passage in George Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens.  He is writing about David Copperfield.  It’s truly amazing how much attitudes have changed toward child rearing in the last 150 years.  Orwell writes,

In Dicken’s youth children were still being “solemnly tried at a criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen,” and it was not so long since boys of thirteen had been hanged for petty theft.  The doctrine of “breaking the child’s spirit” was in full vigour, and The Fairchild Family was a standard book for children till late into the century.  This evil book is now issued in pretty-pretty expurgated editions, but it is well worth reading in the original version.  It gives one some idea of the lengths to which child-discipline was sometimes carried.

Mr. Fairchild, for instance, when he catches his children quarreling, first thrashes them, reciting Doctor Watt’s “Let dogs delight to bark and bite” between blows of the cane, and then takes them to spend the afternoon beneath a gibbet where the rotting corpse of a murderer is hanging. 

Orwell’s own experience at Crossgates, a public boarding school, was similar, sadly, to what Dickens describes.  He was obviously greatly affected by it.

I’m looking for a copy of The Fairchild Family to read now (, (not for advice!).

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