The Pedagogical Function of Mary Sherwood's The History of Little Henry and his Bearer in 'Heathen Lands'

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Mary Sherwood’s children’s story The History of Little Henry and his Bearer (1814) obtained a broad readership in Britain and North America, where it ran to numerous editions. It was, however, disseminated and read in translated forms in non-western locales such as India, China, Burma, Malaysia, the Middle East, and Ceylon from the early to late nineteenth century. Previous scholars have engaged in textual analysis of this narrative to illuminate the missionary predicament in India or the shifting relationship between the colonizer and colonized during the early nineteenth century. This essay engages in a more historicist approach by correlating the text to Sherwood’s involvement with the evangelical circle in India and her own proselytizing activities whilst residing in the region. It consequently argues Little Henry was principally designed to make fundamental adjustments to the mentalities “heathens” in the subcontinent and instantiate a moral transformation within these subjects. The argument, however, then goes on to illuminate the ways in which Protestant transnational and trans-regional networks ensured the text’s dissemination to various parts of Asia and the Middle East. Through focusing on its usage in two case studies, namely, missionary schools in Serampore, India, and Shanghai, China, I argue the main reasons that Little Henry was disseminated by missionaries so widely was its suitability as an educational primer to teach literacy and then teach English as a foreign language. The argument also proposes that the narrative, rather than subduing “heathen” subjects and reconciling them to their place, had the capacity to instantiate within them a desire for social mobility in some form.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Religious History Literature and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2018


  • olonialism, evangelicals, missionaries, print networks, children's fiction


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