Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


Instead of asking what children want, or need, from literature, this book has asked what it is that adults, through literature, want or demand of the child. By putting the question in this form, I have tried to foreground some (although by no means all) of the complex meanings concealed inside an expression like ‘literature for children’ whose very clarity and self-evidence (the idea of a service rendered or a gift) seems to work like a decoy or a foil. There is a famous story by Edgar Allan Poe, called ‘The Purloined Letter’, which has been amply commented on by psychoanalysts and others,1 in which a detective hired to recover a stolen letter finds it when he abandons the obvious procedure of turning the suspect’s apartment upside down and starts looking, not for what is hidden, but for what is offered — an opened envelope in the letter rack which is there for all to see. The story can serve as an analogue for the starting-point for this investigation, without the implication, however, that what carries on in the name of children’s literature is the perpetration of a crime.


Great Ormond Street Hospital Complex Meaning Literary Object Famous Story Purloin Letter 
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  1. 2.
    For a different emphasis on the question of language in relation to children’s books in terms of reader response, based on the psychology of the reading process and theories of literary communication, see aaa Fox and aaa Hammond (eds), Responses to Children’s Literature, 1978,Google Scholar
  2. and Aidan Chambers, ‘The Reader in the Book’ (Chambers, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See George Melly and J. R. Glaves-Smith, A Child of Six Could Do It! (Melly and Glaves-Smith, 1973) esp. cartoon 64, p. 62 and cartoon 66, p. 64.Google Scholar

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© Jacqueline Rose 1992

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