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Literature and Aging

Redemptive Grandchildren

The redemptive grandchild theme is developed in Johanna Spyri's Heidi (1880), Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), and Annie Fellows Johnston's The Little Colonel Series (1895). At the start of each story, the grandfathers have severed relations with the next generation, claiming their children have married inappropriately. The grandchildren appear on the scene and through their innocent affection rekindle the familial love and pride that the grandfathers thought had died forever. Older women rarely need such reeducation. Indeed, they sometimes intercede and help the children manage the isolated old men. The grandfathers in Fauntleroy and the Little Colonel are obsessed with issues of class and race. Unlike the mountain-dwelling grandfather of Heidi they have little useful to teach their grandchildren outside of what contemporary readers regard as snobbish elitism. Fortunately, children can still respond to Heidi's hopeful message that children have the power to reconcile families torn by strife.

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