LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

A.A. Milne and his Pots of Honey

For my final paper I really struggled throughout the research process because, as one source led me to another, I found that each of my grand and ‘original’ ideas were in fact, not so original after all.  The life of English scholar I guess…  However, one idea I think may work, an idea that, out of the many articles and books I’ve read on Milne and Winnie the Pooh, has not been approached in the way I think it could be explored.  The idea that Milne, not by his literary intention, is his own creation – he is Pooh bear.  Every source I’ve explored has discussed Milne’s life and how he tried, through his children’s stories, to recapture the idyll and Arcadian life and surroundings that defined his carefree and happy childhood; that he wanted to hold on to Edwardian England and sunny days at his family’s country home.

Would Lewis Carroll have been able to create the innocent Alice, immersed in an identity crisis in the fantastical, and god-like world of Wonderland, if his own life struggles didn’t exist?  If he himself wasn’t plagued by a stammer, distraught by the fact that the closest he could get to the children was by his, somewhat questionable, relationship to other family’s young daughters?  Would J.M. Barrie have been able to construct the boy who would never grow up, Neverland, Wendy, and Mrs. Darling if he were not depressed by an unhappy and adulterous marriage, desperate to be part of a family and have a connection with children, a relationship that ended up devastating him and the Llewellyn-Davies boys’ lives?  My answer is no.  Without the need to escape, this successful, escapist children’s literature could not exist.  Carroll’s stammer disappeared during his teas with the girls whom inspired Alice.  Barrie’s Peter Pan came to life when he played dress up with the Llewellyn-Davies boys.  So what was the great tragedy of Milne’s life?  In what ways was he trying to compensate for or fulfill sadness by writing Winnie the Pooh?

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A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and Pooh Bear

My argument is that he was not; it is that Pooh is not quite the same type of “escapist” children’s classics that were written by the ‘Greats’ who were his predecessors.  He wrote it from happy memories, he delighted in the nostalgia it surfaced within him, and it was something he could share with his young son.  As Jackie Wullschlager wrote in her book, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne, “Milne grew simply from happy child into a charming young man excelling in the adult playground of pre-war London.” (181) Pooh and his friends did not come from a place of his deepest imagination and longings; they were just Christopher Robin’s toys, bought from Harrods (a high end London department store).

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Winnie the Pooh and his ‘Hunny’ pot.

It is for these reasons and many more that I am arguing that Milne is just like Pooh,leading a happy and bumbling life that looked much like the Hundred Acre Woods, full of friends, support, and success, and he wrote Winnie the Pooh not to escape, but because he was simply ‘hungry’.  He was hungry to use these Pooh stories as a way to revisit the times he was happiest: his boyhood, the whimsical Edwardian era, and pre-war London because they were, quite simply, his ‘honey pots’.

Rebekah – have I convinced you that this can work? 🙂

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Five Children and It: Have the Narrators of Children Literature Evolved with the Characters?

The 1902 novel, “Five Children and It” by Edith Nesbit, is filled with extremely amusing and interesting characters, all of whom are worth examining.  However, one of the characters that sparked my interest more than the most was that of the narrator.  Throughout our course exploring the Golden Age of Children’s literature we have read books with varying narrators that have moved from being omnipotent and moralistic observers who pause the story from time to time to deliver, in a didactic manner, the ‘lesson’ to the child, to the narrator we find in “Five Children and It”.  The move of Children’s literature from the Victorian era which was defined by principled and disciplined, good little boys and girls with rosy cheeks and angelic eyes to the children of Panther, Squirrel, Bobs, Pussy, and Lamb who celebrate how “nice and ugly” they look, was a move that I found to be a vast improvement and much more realistic. (pg. 25)  Along with this evolvement of the representation of children’s in literature, from being moral examples to celebrating the mischievousness, naive innocence, and natural whimsy of children, I believe that the narrator’s tones and role in the story has evolved too.  I think the the third person, omnipotent narrator found in “Five Children and It” helps to drive home Nesbit’s full appreciation of the naughtiness and imaginations of children that proves to be the backbone of the story.  The narrator has a dialogue with the reader, presumably a child, that is a far cry from the narrator that wove the story of “Water Babies”, when Nesbit’s narrator pauses to talk to the reader it is not to provide moralistic instruction, it is usually to do quite the opposite.  When the four older children steal the “necessities of life” to eat atop the church roof, one of these necessities being a full soda-water bottle, the narrator goes so far as to encourage the children readers to follow the messy and misguided footsteps of the four children and their comical interaction with trying to drink out of the soda bottle.

“But on thing you can’t imagine, and that is how soda-water behaves when you try to drink it straight out of a siphon…But if imagination will not help you, experience will, and you can easily try it for yourself if you can get a grown up to give you a siphon.  If you want to have a really through experience, put the tube in your mouth and press the handle very suddenly and very hard.” (pg. 104)

Furthering my assertion that the narrator has become just as playful as the children this story appreciates, and has moved very far away from the instructive narrator of the Victorian era, I found quite often throughout the novel that the obvious mistakes the children made in the story went not only unnoticed but sometimes, encouraged, by the narrator.  When Cyril confuses the term germ with “germans…little waggly things you see with microscopes” the narrator continues the story with niter acknowledgement or correction, much to the amusement of the readers whom are old enough to catch it.  The narrator is more than happy to allow for faulty, childish reasoning to be absorbed by the readers such as the justification that if “a country won’t sell you provisions” it is perfectly acceptable to “take them”. (pg. 99)  There are many more instances throughout “Five Children and It” where the narrator shows through his/her voice in the story, or lack thereof, how far children’s literature has truly come since the older eras, wherein not just the children are creatures of the Edwardian ears, but the storytellers are too.  Even going as far too say, after mentioning mathematics, Roman times, and Shakespeare all in one passage, “…but I fear I am getting too instructive.” (pg. 59)

*I have tagged this blog as both Prompt 4 (Character Analysis) and Prompt 10 (Free Choice) because I feel it’s kind of a mixture of both!*

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The Boyhood in Barrie

In exploration of J.M. Barrie’s life it proved impossible, for himself and the reader alike, to be able to extricate the events of Barrie’s life from that of his writing.  They are completely impossible to untangle and have undoubtedly informed and inspired one another.  I think the experiences Barrie bore throughout his life that created and manifested within him this enduring essence of ‘boyhood’ became both his downfall and his triumph.  I believe that without the childlike qualities and identification with the manners and minds of children that Barrie possessed; he would not have been able to write and weave so beautifully the imaginative stories he did.  However, it cannot go unacknowledged that his unyielding grip on childhood, which revealed itself in his novels and plays, were also a source of criticism from critics, it formed the backbone of his attachment to the Llewellyn Davies boys which ended in heartbreak, and it created in him a characteristic of asexuality that plagued his adult social life.  So the question I am posing hear is, was the boyhood in Barrie and blessing or a burden, or possibly both?

Barrie is a contradiction, he was born to working a family of nine children and the tragedy of his brother’s death devastated his mother and him, and essentially took his childhood away from him as he assumed responsibility for his mother’s happiness, essentially, he had to grow up early.  In the Introduction to our book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy, by Peter Hollindale, Hollindale astutely observes of Barrie and his mother, “Both of them appe

ar to have felt a lasting need for an exceptionally close and equal companionship with children, and it could be argued that in trying to satisfy this need they committed innocent but harmful trespass on the lives of children – he in course of time on the Llewellyn Davies boys, and she on Barrie himself.” (Pg. xiii)

https://i2.wp.com/wikis.lib.ncsu.edu/images/2/25/JMB_and_Michael_L._Davies.jpg

J.M. Barrie, dressed as Captain Hook, plays with Michael Lewelyn Davies in August, 1906.

Even Barrie’s physical traits were childlike, growing no taller that 5’3”, his hair not graying until unusually late in his life, and he is reported to have possessed youthful and boyish features. Barrie’s marriage that took three years to finally come to be and ultimately ended with a divorce due to his wife’s adulteration, was childless and allegedly unconsummated – it could be argued that he considered women in his life just as he wrote about them in his literature, as desexualized.  Again Hollindale writes of Barrie an encompassing description of his childlike tendencies, “For him there was no continuum from child to adult, nor yet the usual transition from conventional boys’ make-believe to conventional male adult life, but rather perhaps a no man’s land between the two.” (Pg. xiv)  Upon reading this I couldn’t help but to wander, was Barrie, just as his famous little boy Peter Pan was, caught betwixt and between?

However, if it were not for his ability to be immersed in childhood would Barrie have been able to so beautifully and accurately craft the descriptions and stories he did from the widened, innocent eyes of a child?  Would he be able to capture children’s fits to be ‘wild dog’ or ‘mary-annish’, which prove, if one knows children well, to be uncannily fitting?  How could he have known that, for a child, a stick-boat at the round pond would and will always beat the shiny yacht from your uncle if not for the boyhood that lived in him?  Would he have been able to capture the imaginations of children in his books quite so perfectly?  I think not.  I truly believe that it was the boyhood in Barrie that gave Peter Pan life, but it was also the reason for heartbreak in his own life and the lives of many others’.

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Alice in Wonderland: Adult’s Contribution to Canonical Status

Virginia Woolf said of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories that they are, “not books for children; they are only books in which we become children…To become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange that nothing is surprising; to be heartless, to be ruthless, yet to be so passionate that a snub or a shadow drapes the world in gloom.  It is so to be Alice in Wonderland.” (Kidd, 74)  After reading Lewis Carroll’s novels The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass I feel as though I have to agree with Woolf’s assertion, that truly the Alice stories, though greatly enjoyed by children, are not necessarily the audience who identifies with the absolute most.  I think it is this quality of the Alice stories that has undeniably contributed to their enduring existence within the literary world and the world of popular culture.  Lewis Carroll did not craft these unique stories and their strong characters to be nonsensical merely for nonsense’s sake, they are, as Roni Natov describes it in her article The Persistence of Alice, Carroll exposing the, “anti-sense, anti-rational underside of our existence.” (Natov, 38) Alice in WonderlandCarroll’s novels have to them so many layers of complexity and identification for so many age groups that, though the Alice stories are categorized as canonical and a longstanding member of the Golden Age of Children’s literature collection, the experience children have when encountering one of these stories is superficial.  They enjoy the nonsense, the rule breaking, the “worlds of reversals and unexpected combinations that children find so funny,” but beyond that, the deeper messages of Carroll’s stories belong to the adults. (Natov, 52) Kenneth B. Kidd describes this awareness of adult appreciation of Carroll’s novels by observing in his article, Freud in Oz, “Carroll’s Alice books…contain no only fantastical creatures but also mathematical puzzles, educational satires, and not a little narratorial joking at Alice’s expense.” (Kidd, 74)  I think adults appreciate not only the elements of the novel suggested by Kidd or Woolf, but also I believe that adults can identify with the character of Alice, I think her vulnerability as well as her resiliency is appreciated, her constant need to make sense and order of a chaotic and nonsensical world, and her tearful frustration when her efforts fail.  There is a consistent duality in the Alice novels that reflects the duality of the adult world, ““We may feel trapped and stifled in Wonderland. But there is also a sense of freedom which comes from recognizing the truth and being forced to laugh at it, from understanding the chaos and uncertainty we have always sensed about our lives.” (Natov, 61)  I think it is mainly this quality of duality; of order and chaos, of the literal and of nonsense, the child’s eyes and the adult’s understanding, and of the idea that our stable and consistent world is just a rabbit whole away from Wonderland, that attracts and keeps adult readers and it is this audience of adult readers that has allowed and enabled the Alice stories to endure as long as they have.  Kidd noted in his article that, “Alice or Carroll appear everywhere: in popular music, television, graphic novels, musicals, ballets, operas, plays, and realist theater.  Alice has at once been preserved intact and transformed dramatically.” (Kidd, 74)  Children are not the gatekeepers of entrance into canonical status in Children’s Literature; it is the adults that ensure this status.  Deborah Stevenson states authoritatively in her article Classics and Canons that, “Ultimately, the literature’s most powerful children are ex-children.” (Stevenson, 109)  Novels that can be enjoyed and understood by children and adults alike are much more likely to be reproduced, reinterpreted, and proliferate cultures of the past and present, they will be much more likely to enter into the realm of the canon.  It is no surprise then that Carroll’s Alice stories are so iconic, so proliferated, and so enduring in their standing as one of the greats.

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Pinocchio as a Comedy and a Tragedy: Is it Appropriate for Children Today?

Ann Lawson Lucas, the translator and author of the introduction and notes in The Adventures of Pinocchio, described the essence of the novel perfectly when she aptly stated, “In Pinocchio, the emphasis is on comedy, yet tragedy is present to a significant degree.  These adventures entail danger, fear, loss and grief, and there is a great deal of death in the book.  …Pinocchio is about growing up.” (Pgs. xli-xlii)  I whole heartedly agree with this assertion and this summation of the story Carlo Collodi weaved about the misadventures and life lessons of this little wooden boy, Pinocchio deals with very adult issues that are not sugar-coated nor masked, though they are occasionally softened by the silliness of talking animals or growing noses.  When attempting to discern the appropriate age this text should be recommended for it is extremely difficult because even though the problems the novel addresses and the plot twists it takes can very justly be considered ‘adult’, they are also arguably a fundamental part of growing up and learning how to, through literature, deal with problems and plot twists of life – something that I believe is essential for young readers.

     Pinocchio kills a talking cricket who comes to haunt him as a ghost, he finds a fellow child when he is lost in the woods who claims she is dead, he suffers starvation, imprisonment, and being hung, he discovers the tombstone of his closest friend, he is blamed for the murder of a fellow school mate, Pinocchio is almost eaten, he witnesses his father’s drowning, sees his best friend-turned-donkey labored to death, and he has to work extremely hard to financially support his ill father as well as the gravely ill fairy/mother figure he has come to love.  This is more than one person should or could even bear in a lifetime yet Pinocchio endures all of this in just a few short years.  As we follow and suffer with him the many misfortunes and tragedies Pinocchio experiences there are times that even I thought, this is too much, too far, and not for kids, but yet, simultaneously I understood the lessons Collodi was trying to impart upon the intended readers and I also acknowledge how very valuable it is to learn, through our little wooden puppet, how to deal with life and death, to learn that lying leads to trouble, and “those children who rebel against their parents…will never do well in this world, and sooner or later they will bitterly regret what they did.” (Pg. 12)

Ann Lawson Lucas helped to bridge the gap that history has made between the reading of this book by children in 1883 and today, and the different life experiences that shaped and influenced the novel Collodi has written.  She says,

“A century ago death was a commonplace of every day life, Collodi had ample experience of it himself, especially among his siblings and through the early death of his father.  Perhaps the deaths and griefs in Pinocchio were a way of confronting children’s worst fears.  Although shocking and unpalatable to modern taste, they have an important function in the balance of the narrative: the joy is more joyous because of the survival through the experience of sorrow, and conversely the story is constantly pulled back from frivolity by the depth of serious emotion evoked.” (Pg. xlii)

http://eliminatedleaves.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pinocho.jpg     I agree, though the story is fantastical and fraught with silliness and surprising circumstances, it addresses very real issues, issues that may not be as present in the life of children today, but regardless, everyone in their lifetime will experience death, every child will be tempted by their own version of the “Land of Toys”, every child will tell a lie or misbehave, and they will witness or endure poverty.  Though the delivery of these life lessons and experiences by Collodi may not be as softened, or palatable, as readers might expect or be accustomed to today, many of the themes and teachings in The Adventures of Pinocchio still endure in contemporary culture.  The website GoodReads, a place for book sharing, reviewing, and recommending, rated Pinnochio for those ages five and up and though I can’t see many parent wanting their five year old to read, “They strung him up to dangle from the branch of a big tree…He had no breath left to say anything else.  He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, straightened his legs and, giving a great shudder, hung there as if frozen stiff, “ right before bed I still would agree with this rating. (Pg. 48)  Pinocchio is unapologetically a story that is both comedy and tragedy, it is, as Glauco Cambon described it in Pinocchio and the Problem of Children’s Literature, a book that “has to do with the education of a child, both through the traditional humanist instrument of classroom and books and through the school of hard knocks.” (Cambon, Pg. 54)

In short, Pinocchio is about growing up, which all children have to do one day.

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Tom’s Baptism: Religious Themes and Symbolism in Water Babies

“…and then he heard the Irishwoman saying, “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be.” And then he heard the church bells ring so loud, close to him, too, that he was sure it must be Sunday, in spite of what the old dame had said; and he would go to church and see what church was like inside, for he had never been to one, poor little fellow, in all his life…He must go to the river and wash first.” And he said out loud again and again, though being half asleep he did not know it, “I must be clean, I must be clean.” (Pg. 30 Kingsley

I chose to do a close reading of this excerpt for it proved to be a pivotal moment in the text with very religiously charged and symbolic themes.  I believe that this excerpt described or represented, for Tom, strong themes of baptism and salvation through Christianity.  In almost all religions and practices within the scope of Christianity, baptism is predominantly performed through the symbolic washing away of sins with water, essentially becoming clean. The definition of baptism as given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is actually,

“1. A Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community

2. An act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/baptism)

     Multiple times throughout the text Kingsley referenced the fact that Tom was not religious and had not been brought up under a Christian hand, as evidenced when Tom tells the Irishwoman that he knows no prayers to say or, found in the aforementioned excerpt when Kinglsey called Tom a “poor little fellow” for having never been inside a church. (Pg. 30, Kingsley) In this novel it is evident that in order to become the good little Christian and British boy that Tom wants be, he must be saved and initiated into the church.  By Tom repeating again and again, “I must be clean, I must be clean” we know that he wants to be saved, he wants the sinner’s soot that has covered his body his whole life to be washed away, he wants to fulfill the prophecy of the Irishwoman that, “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be.” (Pg. 30, Kingsley)   Just as in Christianity, those that wished to be saved will be saved even if it is through death.  I believe that when Tom entered the water and fell into “the quietest, sunniest, coziest sleep that ever he had in his life” it was, in actuality, an eternal sleep or death. (Pg. 32, Kingsley)   And it was through this sleep and the washing away of the soot that had blackened his body he was baptized and saved, the religious overtones in this scene are so heavy, not only unmistakably referenced by the water, the wish to be clean, and the sleep Tom entered, but the fact that the closer he got to the stream of deliverance the louder and louder the church bells in his head were ringing, as if he was getting closer and closer to church and God.

    These religious motifs and themes are predominant throughout Tom’s story and are continually alluded to, however, I think a powerful description or evidence of Tom’s true salvation is, near the end of the novel, when he finally reached Mr. Grimes who was toiling away sweeping chimneys without repentance, Tom “was surprised to see that the soot did not stick to his feet, or dirty them in the least.” (Pg. 180, Kingsley) The fact that the chimney’s soot that, during the novel, had been a mark of sin and immorality could not blacken Tom’s feet symbolizes and proves, to me, that Tom has truly been saved. It is through these significant scenes throughout Tom’s story, and especially within the passage of baptism and salvation excerpted above, that we see Tom’s journey is really one of redemption and salvation so he is able to go ‘home with Ellie on Sundays.” (Pg. 188, Kingsley)

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Introductory Blog: Catherine Woodcock

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p.s. that’s my dog, Scout!

My name is Catherine Woodcock, I’m a senior here at the University of Florida with a major in Political science and two minors in English and Mass Communication.  I am from Jacksonville, Florida (more specifically Ponte Vedra Beach if you know the area) but I spent half of my life living in England too as my dad and extensive family are British.

I have been an absolutely avid reader since early childhood and have always loved books, a quality that I think is what drew me towards taking this course.  The books I read and loved as a child heavily influence my idea of “children’s literature”. I think this genre, for me, is primarily composed of books that are colorfully written with imaginative stories, poems, and songs that entertain and stimulate the minds of children from ages two to ten.  When I hear the term “children’s literature” I can’t help but to think of that vibrant section of the bookstore with train tracks, carpets, and miniature chairs and tables filled with books of all shapes and sizes.  It conjures in my mind the books that my father read, I read, and the ones that I read to my young cousins today.  I believe that it is a cross-generational and encompassing genre that, to many varying people, reflects many differing personal inclusions and definitions highly subjected to everyone’s individual childhood experiences and memories.

Though it is difficult to choose my favorite childhood text I think I would probably have to choose The Twits by Roald Dahl.  I was devoted to anything Roald Dahl as a kid but this short novel I read countless times and truly adored.

I have never taken a children’s literature class before but I am so excited to start this course to relive and re-examine the enduring works we will be reading this semester.

The term “Golden Age” of children’s literature for me can be described, not fully but to a certain degree, by the word timeless.  They are the books that have done just that, stood the test of time and are, for the most part, staples of the general population’s childhoods across countries as well as generations.  The questions that this term inspires within me surround a growing curiosity I have concerning how we determine the qualifications that make a piece of literature timeless.

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