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Critical Children

Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Critical Children
    Book Description:

    The ten novels explored in Critical Children portray children so vividly that their names are instantly recognizable. Richard Locke traces the 130-year evolution of these iconic child characters, moving from Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip in Great Expectations to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; from Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw to Peter Pan and his modern American descendant, Holden Caulfield; and finally to Lolita and Alexander Portnoy.

    "It's remarkable," writes Locke, "that so many classic (or, let's say, unforgotten) English and American novels should focus on children and adolescents not as colorful minor characters but as the intense center of attention." Despite many differences of style, setting, and structure, they all enlist a particular child's story in a larger cultural narrative. In Critical Children, Locke describes the ways the children in these novels have been used to explore and evade large social, psychological, and moral problems.

    Writing as an editor, teacher, critic, and essayist, Locke demonstrates the way these great novels work, how they spring to life from their details, and how they both invite and resist interpretation and provoke rereading. Locke conveys the variety and continued vitality of these books as they shift from Victorian moral allegory to New York comic psychoanalytic monologue, from a child who is an agent of redemption to one who is a narcissistic prisoner of guilt and proud rage.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52799-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1876 mark twain stopped working on the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn and didn’t pick it up for three years. He’d written 446 pages and come to the middle of the eighteenth chapter. The fugitive orphan Huck and the runaway slave Jim have been violently separated once again after a steamboat has crushed the raft that is their home and their vehicle to freedom. Huck dives toward the bottom of the river below the thirty-foot steamboat wheel, but when he surfaces he can’t find Jim and finally scrambles ashore in the dark. He comes to a backwoods country mansion, a...

    (pp. 13-49)
    Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Pip

    Of all the figures in English literature, Charles Dickens is most famous for his children—Oliver Twist, Little Nell, David Copperfield, and Pip in Great Expectations. Dickens extended the romantics’ moral, psychological, and philosophical use of the child from the realm of lyric and personal epic poetry into that of the encyclopedic Victorian novel so that a child’s welfare now also became the crucial index of a nation’s—indeed, an empire’s—social and political health and even its survival. Throughout the legendary sprawl of his fifteen novels, fourteen volumes of stories, and five collections of nonfiction, Dickens repeatedly explored the...

    (pp. 50-86)
    Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

    One hundred years after America declared its independence, Mark Twain published the first of his two quintessential American novels, fictions that use children to explore and define national identity and possibility. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) masquerades as a children’s entertainment, but in fact it addresses a grand centennial theme—can the promise of America as a new beginning for human society, dedicated to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, be fulfilled? Or was it only possible to fulfill it thirty or forty years before, in a small town in a provincial Western state, and only possible for boys...

    (pp. 87-102)
    Miles and Flora

    The turn of the screw is Henry James’s most famous and infamously provoking work of fictional art. Since 1898 when it was published to great acclaim (and some revulsion: “sickening,” “repulsive,” “very cruel and untrue”),¹ it has elicited more than 500 works of literary criticism and stimulated such adaptations as a notable (if crucially transformed) opera by Benjamin Britten in 1954; a dismal play, The Innocents, by William Archibald (1950); at least eleven maladroit movies (including a Hollywood version of The Innocents with Deborah Kerr in 1961 and efforts by such otherwise plausible actors as Ingrid Bergman in 1959, Marlon...

    (pp. 103-137)
    Peter Pan

    In the last decade of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, J. M. Barrie seemed destined for literary immortality. Mark Twain called Peter Pan “a great and refining and uplifting benefaction to this sordid and money-mad age.”¹ Robert Louis Stevenson and Max Beerbohm proclaimed Barrie “a man of genius,”² and the word crops up again and again in contemporary accounts. William Archer, the translator of Ibsen, called Barrie “a humourist of original and delightful genius who happens to have an extraordinary knack of expressing himself in dramatic form.”³

    Barrie was also uncommonly successful. A recent biographer...

  8. 5 J. D. Salinger’S Saintly Dropout
    (pp. 138-153)
    Holden Caulfield

    Mid-twentieth-century fiction was full of odd children—sensitive young misfits and martyrs whose anxious vulnerability was a sign of their emotional, intellectual, and moral superiority to the conformists of the lonely crowd. In the Gothic South there was the tomboy of Carson McCullers’s Member of the Wedding (1946) and the sissy of Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948); in the West there was the tormented cowboy brother and sister of Jean Stafford’s Mountain Lion (1947); and in the Midwest there was the blank abused Candide of James Purdy’s Malcolm (1959). While demonic children were portrayed in William March’s Bad...

    (pp. 154-172)

    The most extraordinary use of a child in twentieth-century American literature can be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. When the novel appeared in America in 1958—three years after its first publication in the Traveler’s Companion series of the Paris pornographer Maurice Girodias, whom Nabokov knew only as the publisher of art books—Lolita sold more quickly than any book since Gone With the Wind. There were endless cartoons and talk-show jokes and a brilliant if crucially altered movie version by Stanley Kubrick, and within a few years the concept and indeed the word “Lolita” had pervaded international culture. (I...

    (pp. 173-186)
    Alexander Portnoy

    The three undisputed masters of Jewish American fiction—Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth—combine the drama of Eastern European immigrant loss and American assimilation with the childhood family romance at its most operatically Oedipal. All three are heirs of Dickens and Joyce, virtuoso verbal performers and mimics, masters of deep structures and improvisatory riffs, bursting with anthropological and psychological detail, nostalgia, anger, jokes, and jeremiads. And all three magnificently evoke childhood, for through a child’s eyes the many conflicts that obsess, delight, and torment them can be most vividly described and dramatized.

    Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934)...

    (pp. 187-188)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 189-198)
    (pp. 199-208)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 209-218)