Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

An essential text that provides students with a dynamic, sophisticated and controversial look at the critical representation of the child in children's literature, arguing for a more open and eclectic approach: one that celebrates the diverse power, appeal and possibilities of children's literature. Drawing on psychoanalytically informed perspectives, David Rudd shows students how theory can be both exciting and liberating.

This is a thought-provoking supplementary text for modules on Children’s Literature or Literary Theory which may be offered at the upper levels of an undergraduate Literature degree. In addition it is a stimulating resource for advanced students who may be studying children’s literature or literary theory as part of a taught postgraduate degree in Literature.

Table of Contents

Introduction: An Energetics of Children’s Literature

Introduction: An Energetics of Children’s Literature

Abstract
Let me begin by commending the incredible range of scholarship that is currently being undertaken in children’s literature studies. It is making strides as never before, perhaps especially in work on earlier, formerly neglected periods (eighteenth-century studies have been particularly productive, e.g. O’Malley, 2003, 2012; Grenby, 2011; Horne, 2011), but also in work that ensures that children’s literature is seen in the wider context of children’s studies (in cinema, toys, new media, pastimes, subcultures, ethnographic studies, etc.). But while celebrating this, I also have a sense of something missing. Namely, that we sometimes seem to be trying too hard, that we have become too ponderous in our deliberations about children’s books (we murder to dissect), such that we lose the actual excitement of reading. To borrow from Peter Brooks (himself borrowing from Jacques Derrida), I would suggest that there is too much ‘mechanics’ and not enough ‘energetics’ in much of our analysis (Brooks, 1984: 47). 1 Thus our increasingly sophisticated vocabulary for discussing key issues around texts for children is sometimes in danger of itself becoming a straightjacket. In Foucauldian terms, that which escapes our grids of classifi cation is often neglected. But this is not in any way to suggest that we need a more fi nely graded mesh; in fact, the opposite. I am arguing for more openness, more edginess. Neither is this a call for a return to some illusory realm labelled ‘post-theory’.
David Rudd

The Imaginary

Frontmatter

1. Many Happy Returns: To Freud, Rose, the Child and its Literature

Abstract
This chapter’ looks back at Jacqueline Rose’s seminal 1984 work, The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’ Fiction, with the hindsight of nearly 30 years, recognising how influential it has been, but also at how it has as frequently been ignored or, more simply, rendered innocuous, its radical, destabilising challenges repressed, much like the symptoms of an underlying trauma. Unfortunately, that rallying cry of her subtitle — ‘the impossibility of children’s fiction’ — has often got in the way, being seen by some as a truth to be universally acknowledged or else, by others, as refutable simply by gesturing to the humanist child (e.g. Rustin, 1985; Hollindale, 1991, 1995;2 Watson, 1992; Lesnik-Oberstein, 1994, 1998; Galbraith, 2001; Walsh, 2002; Chapleau, 2004). Though I go along with many of her insights, I will argue that her conclusion, that children’s fiction is impossible, is untenable. Given that we are all creatures of language — that our very development proceeds in a ‘fictional direction’, as Lacan put it — then children’s fiction must be as possible as any other. In fact, to single it out as distinct is, ironically, to hold on to a residual notion of the Romantic child: a being distinct from adults, standing outside society and language, rather than a being that is actively involved in negotiating meaning.
David Rudd

2. Peter Pan and the Riddle of Existence

Abstract
In the previous chapter I returned to Rose’s thesis about the ‘impossibility of children’s fiction’. Though critical of it in some respects, I also endorsed much of her ‘case’. In this chapter I want to return to its main subject, Peter Pan, for two main reasons. First because of the remarkable coyness of many critics in engaging with this work from a psychoanalytical perspective, even though, as Rose herself says, ‘it is too easy to give an Oedipal reading of Peter Pan’ (Rose, 1984: 35). There seems more to it than this, however, as though the text itself, like Neverland, resists such a reading. This reaction might seem strange, given the play’s historical location, emerging at the very time that the unconscious was itself ‘coming out’ (in the 1890s) as a result of the pioneering work of Freud and others. The second reason for returning to Barrie’s text is because it provides a very useful vehicle not only for undertaking a psychoanalytical reading, but for explicating some of the basic Lacanian concepts that I have used in structuring this book.1 And this, of course, is also the second chapter that I have included in the ‘Imaginary’ part, for it deals with the way that the child figure is idealised. Peter Pan (the boy who would not grow up) is one of its key avatars, though also one that undercuts such a notion — as we shall see.
David Rudd

The Symbolic

Frontmatter

3. Holes and Pores: Slipping Between the Cracks of Social Criticism

Abstract
Having discussed Rose’s case about how the figure of Peter Pan, the eternal child, is deployed in children’s literature to cover the various ruptures that make us the ‘split’ subjects of the Symbolic — that is, at how Peter Pan figures as an imaginary, idealised being — let me now look more closely at the divisions that exist within the latter, the Symbolic: of gender, race, and so forth. In my Introduction I voiced concern that criticism of children’s literature often gave one a sense of déjä vu; and that sometimes children’s literature critics adopted tactics reminiscent of the stepsisters in Cinderella, trying to shoehorn texts into ill-fitting footwear. I also suggested that, as a result, a rather procrustean reading of a work sometimes emerged, in which the vibrancy of the primary text was hobbled.
David Rudd

4. Hiding in the Light: Perry Nodelman and the Hidden Adult

Abstract
This is the second chapter that I have framed in terms of the Symbolic. Whereas the previous one was critical of sociological readings of texts, this one considers a far more ambitious work: The Hidden Adult (2008) by Perry Nodelman, in which he attempts to define the whole field of children’s literature (Rose, of course, attended to just a subsection of this — children’s fiction — which she saw as impossible). Both Rose and Nodelman are united in seeing this seemingly safe, imaginary realm as concealing more significant, symbolic concerns, but whereas I emphasised the imaginary appeal of the Peter Pan figure in the first two chapters (emphasising its Romantic roots in Rose’s work, also), here I want to continue probing the way this figure has been dismantled. So, whereas Rose tends to emphasise the seeming innocence and evasion of adult concerns in children’s literature texts (the Imaginary), Nodelman considers these adult concerns to be more overt. His claim is clear, straight from the title of his book, that there is always a ‘hidden adult’ in children’s literature. However, unlike Rose (whom Nodelman 2010 warmly credits), he is far more precise (and less negative) about the nature of this adult presence. As he puts it, a text of children’s literature ‘implies an unspoken and much more complex repertoire that amounts to a second, hidden text’, which he terms a ‘shadow text’ (Nodelman, 2008: 8).
David Rudd

The Real

Frontmatter

5. Home Sweet Home and the Uncanny: Freud, Alice and the Curious Child

Abstract
This chapter is in the part of the book headed ‘The Real’, Lacan’s third order of human existence, and the one that is probably most hard to conceptualise. As I said earlier, this is because it concerns that which lies resolutely outside signification (hence beyond the Symbolic and the Imaginary). Its existence can thus be felt only at times when we find ourselves ‘lost for words’, undone by events; in short, when we find that we are not at home in the universe. It therefore seems apposite to introduce this notion through the concept of the ‘uncanny’, or ‘unhomely’ (or, indeed, ‘unhomey’, as US usage has it), which, as Richard Gooding (2008: 392) remarks, ‘has only lately begun to attract critical attention’ in children’s literature.
David Rudd

Real, Symbolic, Imaginary

Frontmatter

6. Fantasy and Realism Contained : From Fortunatus Cap to the Möbius Strip

Abstract
Having framed earlier chapters in terms of Lacan’s three orders, this one draws them together to reconsider how we discuss ‘fantasy’ and ‘realism’ as competing trends in children’s literature texts, as captured, for instance, in Geoffrey Summerfi eld’s Fantasy and Reason (1984). Though the lines of difference are now seen to have been rather artifi cially contrived, Iwant to suggest a more radical way of rethinking the divide between fantasy and realism. First, though, it is worth rehearsing the background, in which that ‘cursed Barbauld crew’ of Mrs Trimmer, Maria Edgeworth and others were seen to be waging a war against stories that were not rooted in the everyday world. The champions of imagination and fantasy were, of course, the Romantics, predominantly male authors who, like Wordsworth, wanted to hold on to the old, more fantastic tales:
Oh! give us once again the Wishing-Cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible Coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St. George!
The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.
(Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude’, Book 5, lines 364–9)
David Rudd

7. The Children’s Book — Not Suitable for Children?

Abstract
In this final chapter, as at the end of the last, we find ourselves returning to Peter Pan, a text that, as Rose also found, it is hard to escape when discussing children’s literature. Even if we do not fully accept Rose’s thesis, it is undoubtedly the case that the books categorised as children’s fiction almost always have children at their centre. In some ways this might seem obvious, tautological even: the books are for children, after all. But without rehearsing Rose yet again, this seeming obviousness is just what she queries; that is, the extent to which these children are constructed in particular ways by adults, who thereby try to ensure that the former are shown their rightful place.
David Rudd

Conclusion

Conclusion

Abstract
Though Byatt’s The Children’s Book is one of the few ‘adult’ works to feature a children’s writer so prominently, another memorable creation appears in Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary (1975): the spinster author, Neaera H., who is known for her ‘Gillian Vole’ stories. However, as she is contemplating her vocation, she threatens to move away from cuddly to more predatory creatures:
Each new generation of children has to be told: ‘This is a world, this is what one does, one lives like this.’ Maybe our constant fear is that a generation of children will come along and say, ‘This is not a world, this is nothing, there’s no way to live at all.’ (Ibid.: 100)
David Rudd
Additional information