LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Language in “Pooh”

I have always found the language of A. A. Milne’s Pooh stories to be one of its most endearing facets. There is something totally charming about the odd ways that the characters speak and write, especially the excessive capitalization and frequent misspellings. I think the appeal of the language quirks, for both children and adults, is probably because the speech patterns mimic those of real children.

The narrative function of Owl’s misspellings is the easiest to understand. Owl claims to be one of the most intelligent residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh often seeks his advice, but he still spells “his own name WOL” (50). Even the smallest children hearing these stories can understand that Owl is not quite as smart as he believes himself to be.

The more general misspellings seem like the way a genuine child might write the word, such as ‘heffalump’ for elephant. (‘Eeyore’ also seems to be an onomatopoeia of the sound a donkey makes, though it isn’t a misspelling). The misspellings in the dialogue are even more convincingly childlike. Christopher Robin’s misspellings on his signs are understandable, given that he is five, but Milne carries these misspellings into his writing of dialogue, when he presumably could correct them. Milne is therefore privileging entertainment over education in his stories: rather than correcting his characters, he respects their juvenile education and reports it honestly, without thought to his young readers perhaps learning to spell words incorrectly.

 

Finally, my favorite part of the quirky language of Pooh is the frequent capitalization. Pooh and his friends capitalize words and phrases to emphasize them: “Bear of Very Little Brain,” “being Useful,” “Not like Some” (50, 90, 50). To me, it seems to hearken back to the earliest parts of childhood, when we were first learning words and their meanings. Milne’s characters speak carefully and deliberately, and the capitalization supports this. They have recently learned to speak, and are still exploring language, words, and meanings. Language has not yet become a casual form of communication; it is still a Careful Way of expressing Oneself.

Finally, and interestingly, some dictionaries have actually incorporated some of the words that Milne created: “Eeyorish” is defined as “pessimistic and gloomy.”

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“The Secret Garden” Presentation Sources

Bixler, Phyllis. “Chapter 4: Fairy Stories for Children and Adults (1900-1924).” Frances Hodgson Burnett. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Twayne’s English Authors Series 373. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. <http://go.galegroup.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1472000802&v=2.1&u=gain40375&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w>.

 

Gerzina, Gretchen. Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of the Secret Garden. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Print.

 

Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook. “Not Just For Children: The Life and Legacy of Frances Hodgson Burnett.” In The Garden: Essays in Honor of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Ed. Angelica Shirley Carpenter. Toronto: Scarecrow, 2006. 1-16. Web. 7 Apr. 2013. <http://chapters.scarecrowpress.com/08/108/0810852888ch1.pdf>.

 

Gohlke, Madelon S. “Re-Reading the Secret Garden.” College English 41.8 (1980): 894-902. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/376057>.

 

Lundin, Anne. “The Critical and Commercial Reception of The Secret Garden (1911 – 2004).The Secret Garden. Ed. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. 277-87. Print. Norton Critical Edition.

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Anthea the Feminist

During my research for my final paper, I came across a great article on The Five Children and It entitled “E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: Reconfiguring Time, Nation and Gender” by Michelle Smith. Among her discussion of other social issues presented by the three books, Smith points out that Anthea’s incessant mothering of her siblings seems to be at odds with Nesbit’s personal “unconventional femininity.” As we discussed in class, Nesbit was an intelligent, socially involved woman, so the narrator’s assertion that Anthea was “meant to be a good housekeeper some day” seems awfully backwards (15).

 

Anthea in ten years. Well, this was 1902, probably five years.

Anthea in ten years. Well, this was 1902, probably five years.

Smith, however, argues that Anthea’s mothering is actually the source of her strength of character. I found this assertion convincing. She thinks the most clearly, has strong moral convictions and an empathetic temperament. She is the favorite of ‘the Lamb,’ which implies that her patience and quality of care are superior to her other siblings. This hyper-feminine personality seems to encourage her siblings to rely on her, and she wastes no time in expressing her opinions on the right and moral path of action in each of their adventures. Being a child, she lacks complete responsibility, but she makes up for it in quick-wittedness. This mature temperament is not due to age – Anthea is actually younger than Cyril.

 

"Mom-substitute, what should we do?"

“Mom-substitute, what should we do?”

This “feminine shift in the parameters of heroism” allows Anthea to remain feminine and motherly while still being the hero. To me, this is extremely forward-thinking for a novel published in 1902. Feminism is by no means a recent development, but women who choose to cultivate femininity and domesticity, especially by being housekeepers like Anthea, do still suffer accusations of being anti-women. The more women who choose to become educated professionals, the more work we do towards bridging the divide, but this doesn’t mean that the 1950’s housewife aesthetic is inherently against the equality of women – it’s just a different lifestyle choice. This statement has become mostly accepted at present, but during Nesbit’s time, women were still working towards the right to vote: Nesbit’s display of a woman who was feminine and heroic without sacrificing for either was undoubtedly ahead of her time.

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Thoughts on my paper

In my final paper, I plan to talk about sibling families. The Five Children and It and Peter Pan and Wendy are British Golden Age works that feature groups of siblings going on adventures, rather than a solitary protagonist. I will be including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in my discussion. I intend to show that, under the stress of separation and adventure, groups of siblings form a replacement nuclear family structure in the absence of their actual parents. The older siblings will act parental, while the younger siblings will defer to them for protection and love.

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I just finished rereading and marking up The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which was the book that gave me the thesis idea in the first place. I am pretty pleased with the results:  it appears as if my argument is right on track. The children are traumatically separated from their parents because of the “air-raids” of WWII (1). Though Lewis doesn’t dwell on the separation, Peter and Susan (the older of the four) immediately start directing the family. Peter sets to work cheering them all up, while Susan starts mothering until the ever irritable Edmund snaps at her for “trying to talk like Mother” (2).  The two older siblings direct activities, discipline Edmund, and seek the help of the Professor when they first hear of Lucy’s trip through the wardrobe. Interestingly, when Lucy’s siblings initially don’t believe her stories about Narnia, she grows frustrated and says “…you can write to Mother or you can do anything you like,” yet on the next page Peter muses that if anything is wrong “ [The Professor] will write to Father” (42, 43). Both children choose the parent of the same gender when discussing authority.

When Edmund accidentally goes through the wardrobe and encounters the Witch, she seeks his cooperation by speaking kindly and giving him food, drink and warmth – by taking care of him. She ensures his cooperation by tempting him with enchanted food, but perhaps Edmund is seeking a mother.  Once the four children cross into Narnia together, Peter leads the family, while Susan is constantly looking out for their material needs. It is she who suggests they take the coats from the wardrobe because Narnia is in the throes of winter, who wonders about the safety and availability of food in multiple situations (51, 56, 62). This parental behavior is suddenly scared out of them when they discover Edmund has betrayed them – Peter no longer has any idea what to do, and Susan abandons her concern with the family’s needs. Once they are with Aslan, he takes over the parenting – each sibling has a private moment alone with Aslan, after which they emerge wiser.

However, their actions also seem to be influenced by stereotypical gender roles and primogeniture. When they first meet Aslan, Peter realizes he must lead the family to him because he’s the “eldest” (123). Aslan then takes him off alone to show him “the whole country below them… where you are to be King,” while the girls are left behind (125).

Replace Simba with Peter and you've got it.

Replace Simba with Peter and you’ve got it.

Peter is to be “High King over all the rest” because he is “first-born” (126). Part of Edmund’s evil is that he wants to be more powerful than his siblings, especially “Peter” (85). Aslan specifically says that he does not mean for Susan and Lucy to fight in the battle, despite Lucy’s protestations that she “could be brave enough” because, Aslan says, “battles are ugly when women fight (105). The girls often speak in terms of emotion and feelings, while Peter speaks in logic and “strategems,” which is a very antiquated stereotype of male and female thinking (73).

My issue now is to figure out how to include the issue of age and gender roles. I was initially going to discuss acting parental as a behavior older siblings can choose to adopt when they are upset by the absence of their parents, but now it seems I should be looking into how societal and cultural pressures might be encouraging that behavior. Perhaps Peter and Susan act like parents because they are feeling the pressures of their genders to care for the younger ones and act in a certain gender-specific way, and perhaps Peter is feeling the pressure of being first-born when he chooses to head the siblings. I think I’ll see if I can find some research on gender roles, parenting and sibling-led families (this was common when parents had died) in the time period and see if it helps to clarify my discussion. I also have to keep in mind that this novel was published a later than the other two books in my paper, so I have to look into two different sets of cultural norms.

 

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Alice and Pop Culture

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I have always personally wondered why the appeal of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was so persistent. I didn’t really enjoy Alice until I was an adult literature student and could follow the cleverness of the nonsense. Though most people in my generation are fans of the Disney movie rather than the original text (or at least read the book because they saw the movie first), enough of the elements are the same for the question to stand.

I asked the class why they thought Alice had such a wide appeal for teenagers, and the answers were very insightful. Some mentioned identifying with Alice’s changing body and her uncertain sense of self, while some cited the nonsensical behavior of the adult characters.

The most common line I see quoted from Alice is “We’re all mad here.” Kids on the internet delight in posting pictures of themselves exhaling smoke and quoting this line, or getting it as a tattoo. The line has apparently taken on meaning beyond the Cheshire Cat’s comment. It reminds me, frankly, of kids in middle and high school referring to themselves as ‘crazy’ or ‘random.’ This special-snowflake uniqeness certainly provides one explanation for the popularity of the quote: it could be a reference to living a wild and crazy life. A different group of teens might latch on to this line because they are beginning to see that life does not play out logically or fairly, and madness seems the only explanation. Furthermore, our generation is frequently diagnosed with mental illnesses: ADD, defiance disorders, and depression. In this way, acting outside of the norm is often considered literally crazy.

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I actually wrote that line before I searched for pictures. No kidding.

I actually wrote the line about the smoke before I searched for pictures. No kidding.

However, we ran out of time before I could ask my other question: why has the novel been appropriated by drug culture?  Drug-friendly interpretations of Alice equate the nonsense of Wonderland with a hallucination. The famous song “White Rabbit” was released in 1967 by Jefferson Airplane, and draws inspiration from both Alice books, using mentions of the size-altering food and drink to refer to hallucinogenic drugs. From the band’s website: “Grace Slick [the songwriter] has always said that White Rabbit was intended as a slap toward parents who read their children stories such as Alice in Wonderland (in which Alice uses several drug-like substances in order to change herself) and then wondered why their children grew up to do drugs.” The line “Go Ask Alice” from the song was then used to title Beatrice Sparks’ awful and fictional ‘diary of a real teen drug user’.

I'm pretty sure the Metallica shirt is anachronistic.

I’m pretty sure the Metallica shirt is anachronistic.

Counter-culture is quick to latch on to anything that seems new and different, but the fascination with the seemingly deviant parts of Carroll’s work is misguided. Drug interpretations and other appropriations miss the non-sense aspect of Carroll’s creation: Wonderland isn’t chaos; it is the opposite of logic. Alice was told purely to entertain the Liddell sisters and is only a playful, though clever, nonsense story. Its enduring appeal is probably due to Carroll’s desire only to entertain, and never to instruct. The Cheshire Cat’s madness was not a mention of his rejection of his parent’s generation, nor was it a commentary on his carefree life, nor was it madness in the sense of mental illness — the Cheshire Cat and all the rest of the inhabitants of Wonderland are ‘mad’ because they act and speak nonsense. The nonsense that illuminates the novel is meant to entertain, not to be taken literally; as soon as we take the story out of context and out of nonsense it loses its true content.  And after all, the caterpillar is only smoking tobacco in that hookah.

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Parental Love in “Pinocchio”

Pinocchio misbehaves in every way conceivable for a nineteenth century Italian child: he runs away constantly, lies, and disobeys every command. Yet despite his persistent naughtiness and forgotten repentances, Pinocchio somehow manages to retain the unconditional love of both of his parental figures. Geppetto and the Blue Fairy save and forgive him for every misdeed, despite his repeated disobedience. Their perfect parental love strains belief, even for a fairy-tale-like story.

"I'm going to give up my whole life for you!"

“I’m going to give up my whole life for you!”

The Blue Fairy’s magical powers and angelic resurrection seem to explain her capacity for ceaseless love, but Geppetto is a poor, common man. Geppetto’s sacrificial love continues to strain belief especially after the reader considers the timeline of the tale. Geppetto carves Pinocchio, who immediately runs away and Geppetto is taken to jail. Geppetto returns the next day, forgetting his initial anger when he sees Pinocchio’s burned feet, and giving Pinocchio his pears. In what seems to be the same day, Geppetto sells his coat to buy Pinocchio a primer. The next day – two days after Pinocchio’s creation – Pinocchio runs off and begins his adventure that keeps him from Geppetto for two years.

"We hung out once two years ago - boo hoo hoo".

“We hung out one time two years ago – boo hoo hoo”.

Even disregarding Pinocchio’s odd genesis, Geppetto displays a remarkable amount of self-sacrifice for a creature he has only briefly known. He gives up his food and his coat, but also seems to have given up his temper. Geppetto gets in a scuffle in the second chapter, and is jailed in the third because the policeman believes Geppetto is “a perfect tyrant with children” and believes Geppetto will “tear [Pinocchio] to pieces” if left alone with him (17-18).

Fatherhood has transformed Geppetto. Here, Collodi represents parental love as totally innate – all that is required is the appearance of a child. Geppetto needs no experience, nor a wife, to immediately know what is best for Pinocchio.

Parenting is easy!

Parenting is easy!

Geppetto lovingly names him Pinocchio to “bring him good luck,” but the puppet begins abusing him before his body is even fully formed: “You are not even finished and you already disobey your father!” (13, 14). Nevertheless, he continues to care for Pinocchio, even later “patient[ly]” peeling the pears to teach Pinocchio a lesson about valuing food (33). Geppetto continues to maintain love of this caliber, formed over two days, for over two years of hardship and abandonment. Such a short time period, especially one full of abuse, does not seem enough to cultivate such longstanding affection. Collodi is therefore representing parental love as not only innate, but immediate: Geppetto’s love is fully formed upon Pinocchio’s creation, and requires no reinforcement from his child. Pinocchio may choose to please his father, but parental love will withstand the greatest abuse.

However, since Pinocchio was carved into being, Geppetto directly created him. In this sense, carving the puppet is closer to the construction of the child in the womb than the usual male involvement, making Geppetto’s parental role more maternal than paternal. The Blue Fairy claims Pinocchio as her own, but she has no real involvement in his creation. Geppetto’s journey throughout the book also seems more traditionally feminine – he is self-sacrificial, then abandoned, then suffers alone, but is finally rescued and cared for.

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Grrr(l) Power: Becoming the Animal in “The Tiger’s Bride”

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At the mention of “The Tiger’s Bride” by Angela Carter last Tuesday, our class let out a groan. On our first reading, it seems that we all missed whatever Carter was trying to communicate in this modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast. However, upon a closer inspection of the tale, especially the last passage of the Beauty character’s transformation between pages 64 and 66, the tale resembles the common tale type more closely than we realized.
The narrator’s wish for independence from her sleazy father is an easily understood motivation for remaining in the castle. In a fairly symbolically simple phrase, the narrator comments that she will “wind up” her robotic maidservant and “send her back to perform the part of my father’s daughter” (64). The narrator then proceeds to strip naked, preparing to acquiesce to the Beast’s request.
The Beast’s desire to see her naked rather than a proposal of marriage seems too sexually forward for this usually repressed tale. It is especially disturbing considering the Beast lacks any human features, even relying on a servant to speak for him. However, the narrator speaks of undressing like the shedding of her humanity, rather than preparation for any sexual encounter. It is “not natural for humankind to go naked,” as she comments (64). She feels pain as she undresses, as if she was “stripping off [her] own underpelt” (64). Already speaking in animal’s terms, she has begun her transformation.
She clothes herself in the robe made of rats as she makes her way to the Beast to fend off the “lacerating winds” in the corridors, rather than for modesty’s sake. The robe itself is made of animals, allowing the narrator to protect herself without interrupting her desire to be truly naked. She also wears the earrings made of the Beast’s tears, finally accepting his gifts.
As the Beast begins to lick her “skin off,” his purring shakes the “foundations of the house” (66). Civilization seems to be crumbling around her as she completes her transformation into animal. Finally, the diamond earrings turn back into teardrops. The magical transformation of his tears to diamonds, then given as jewelry, seems to be the Beast’s attempt to bridge the divide between their species, transforming his gifts into gifts appropriate for a human. The transformation of the earrings back into tears shows that the narrator has completed her passage into the realm of the animal.
The Beast’s desire to see her naked can now read much closer to a marriage proposal. By asking her to remove her clothes, he was symbolically asking her to relinquish her humanity so that she could transform into a Beast, and thus become his animal bride. Rather than become human together, the narrator chooses to leave her unhappy life as a human with her father and “shed all the skins of a life in the world” (66).

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Introduction: Alex Haley

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Hi kids, my name is Alex Haley. I hail from Tarpon Springs, in the Tampa Bay area, though I was born and raised in Jamaica. I’m a third year English major focusing on children’s literature, as well as a recently declared Mass Communication minor. My concentration on children’s and YA literature stems from my desire to eventually work as a development editor for YA books. I remind myself daily that this is a legitimate career goal, but I suspect that my interest in YA books only exists because I never ‘grew up’ and started reading ‘real books.’ I currently love the fairy-tale-retellings trending in YA books.

This class fits in nicely with my literary interests. I’m excited for all of the reading, especially Five Children and It, which I adored as a child. I am also interested in studying what makes these ‘classic’ texts so timelessly appealing. The group project is the most worrisome (does anyone actually like group projects? Please correct me if you do), but I’m sure a project with students in an upper level course will be much better than the ones I had to endure in high school.

For me, children’s literature includes any text that was published with children as the intended audience. I took Cech’s Children’s Literature course and Ulanowicz’s Adolescent Literature course last semester, and the latter was definitely the best class I’ve ever taken. I think the term ‘Golden Age’ means the classic, turn of the century works for children that evoke the strongest nostalgia for childhood.

When I’m not reading, I enjoy collecting vintage clothes, riding horses and swing dancing. (The facebook group link is here for any interested parties). I also sing for a twelve piece 1930’s and 40’s jazz band, which is definitely not as cool as it sounds. I’m one of the only two members under sixty.

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