Classic

In her study of comparative children’s literature, Emer O’Sullivan (2001) notes that children’s classics come from three sources: (1) appropriations of adult works; (2) adaptations from traditional (usually oral) narratives; and (3) works written specifically for children. A classic, then, could be a text adopted by children as well as a work written for them. But, as O’Sullivan’s study also makes clear, things are not so simple. “Classic” is an overdetermined and elastic term, one encompassing very different ideas and attitudes. The notion of a children’s classic amplifies the contradictions of the term, especially to the degree that children’s literature has been devalued. The idea of the children’s classic has helped legitimize children’s literature and has thus proven useful; at the same time, “classic” continues to signify a traditional faith in aesthetics, provoking resistance alongside affirmation.

While it lacks a separate entry in Keywords, Raymond Williams (1983a) notes that …

This essay may be found on page 52 of the printed volume.

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