Contesting Childhood

Contesting Childhood: Autobiography, Trauma, and Memory

Kate Douglas
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 236
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj2dn
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    Contesting Childhood
    Book Description:

    The late 1990s and early 2000s witnessed a surge in the publication and popularity of autobiographical writings about childhood. Linking literary and cultural studies, Contesting Childhood draws on a varied selection of works from a diverse range of authorsùfrom first-time to experienced writers. Kate Douglas explores Australian accounts of the Stolen Generation, contemporary American and British narratives of abuse, the bestselling memoirs of Andrea Ashworth, Augusten Burroughs, Robert Drewe, Mary Karr, Frank McCourt, Dave Pelzer, and Lorna Sage, among many others.

    Drawing on trauma and memory studies and theories of authorship and readership,Contesting Childhoodoffers commentary on the triumphs, trials, and tribulations that have shaped this genre. Douglas examines the content of the narratives and the limits of their representations, as well as some of the ways in which autobiographies of youth have become politically important and influential. This study enables readers to discover how stories configure childhood within cultural memory and the public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4915-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: CONSTRUCTING CHILDHOOD, CONTESTING CHILDHOOD
    (pp. 1-18)

    The most notable and perhaps most infamous publishing trend of the 1990s was the autobiography of childhood—a piece of autobiographical writing concerned with the narration of childhood experiences. Autobiographers such as Mary Karr, Frank McCourt, and James McBride burst onto the American literary scene in the mid-1990s, paving the way for a plethora of similarly styled texts to follow. These autobiographies were distinctive for their depiction of challenging, often traumatic childhoods—characterized by abuse, poverty, discrimination, and identity struggles.

    A search on Amazon.com reveals that over a thousand autobiographies of childhood have been published in roughly the past fifteen...

  5. CHAPTER 1 CREATING CHILDHOOD: AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND CULTURAL MEMORY
    (pp. 19-42)

    The autobiography of British feminist academic Lorna Sage—Bad Blood: A Memoir—was published in 2000, shortly before her death from emphysema at age fifty-seven in 2001. InBad Blood, Sage recounts growing up in Shropshire in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite her adult success as a literary critic and author, inBad BloodSage writes exclusively about her childhood. The autobiography focuses in particular on Sage’s unplanned teenage pregnancy and her struggle to rise above class and gender discrimination to gain a university education. Sage does not remember her childhood as a golden age of happiness, innocence, and prosperity—...

  6. CHAPTER 2 CONSUMING CHILDHOOD: BUYING AND SELLING THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL CHILD
    (pp. 43-66)

    If you perused the autobiography or nonfiction section of any bookshop during the 1990s and 2000s, you would inevitably meet the child’s gaze. An autobiography of childhood characteristically contains a photograph of the child on its cover. Often smiling, sometimes frowning, the child is commonly attractive but often shackled with a hairstyle and clothes that are unfashionable—underlining the child’s place in history. The child gazes down upon you from the well-stocked bookstore shelves, imploring you to pick the book up and share in this story of childhood.

    In chapter 1 I explored the ways in which the autobiographical child...

  7. CHAPTER 3 AUTHORING CHILDHOOD: THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AND REDEMPTION
    (pp. 67-83)

    In chapter 2 I began to explore the ways in which autobiographies of childhood construct a relationship between the autobiographical child and adult reader. Following on from this, in this chapter I explore the impact of the adult autobiographical author in the production and reception of autobiographies of childhood. The adult autobiographer constructs the child self, bringing the child back to life a generation on. To write an autobiography of childhood is to inhabit and/or challenge the identities that are available for articulating childhood experiences at a particular cultural moment. What relationship is constructed between the adult autobiographical author and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 SCRIPTS FOR REMEMBERING: CHILDHOODS AND NOSTALGIA
    (pp. 84-105)

    In this study I have argued that autobiographies of childhood are driven by, and need to be read in terms of, a network of textual and contextual relationships. I have also argued that autobiographies of childhood are memory practices. In their initial presentation, these texts promise to tell us an individual’s experiences (and memories) of growing up within a particular cultural milieu. However, I have argued, through their representations and preoccupations, the autobiography of childhood reveals more about what it is possible to remember and forget (culturally) at the time when the text was produced and circulated.

    In this chapter...

  9. CHAPTER 5 SCRIPTS FOR REMEMBERING: TRAUMATIC CHILDHOODS
    (pp. 106-130)

    In the 1990s and 2000s, autobiography and trauma have gone hand in hand—with the publication of a plethora of child abuse survivor narratives. But what do autobiographers do with childhood trauma? What are the limits of traumatic representations in autobiographies of childhood, and what layers can autobiographers add to broader cultural understandings of childhood trauma? The previous chapters have revealed a diversity of traumatic representations within autobiographies of childhood—from Mary Karr’s restrained representation of her childhood rape to Rosalie Fraser’s graphic depiction of sexual abuse at the hands of her foster mother. This chapter takes a close look...

  10. CHAPTER 6 ETHICS: WRITING ABOUT CHILD ABUSE, WRITING ABOUT ABUSIVE PARENTS
    (pp. 131-149)

    In the prologue to her autobiography of childhoodUgly: The True Story of a Loveless Childhood, Constance Briscoe describes a visit she made to Social Services when she was eleven years old. She asks the woman at the reception desk if she can book herself into a children’s home. The woman replies: “You cannot refer yourself to a children’s home, luvvie. You need to get your parents’ consent first. Why don’t you go home and think about it? … I can’t book you in just because you feel like leaving home. Do you want us to contact your mother?” Constance...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE ETHICS OF READING: WITNESSING TRAUMATIC CHILDHOODS
    (pp. 150-169)

    Readership provides a further context for interpreting autobiographies of childhood. At other points in this book I have discussed the reader investments required of traumatic and nostalgic memories of childhood and the ways that readers are anticipated and addressed by autobiographies of childhood. Readers shape autobiographies of childhood as much as any of the other contexts I have discussed in this book. These texts depend on readers to sanction the narratives they offer. Readers play a crucial role in interpreting and inscribing meanings upon these childhoods. These readers may be “professional readers”—researchers engaged in scholarship, reviewers, or media critics—...

  12. CONCLUSION: WRITING CHILDHOOD IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
    (pp. 170-180)

    This is an important time to be working on autobiographies of childhood. At the turn of the millennium, a number of autobiographies have emerged to challenge and consolidate dominant ways of thinking about childhood in the twentieth century. In Australia, Stolen Generations testimonies have produced a revolution in the way many Australians think about their own childhoods during the post–World War II period of assimilation. In the United States and United Kingdom, narratives of childhood poverty and abuse have caused readers to reflect on class and gender inequalities in the so-called postwar golden age. These autobiographies have produced a...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 181-194)
  14. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 195-210)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 211-224)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-226)