LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Sex: Secret and Not-so-Secret

The Secret Garden is ostensibly a children’s novel – the protagonist is a youthful girl of ten years of age – and comes off as a weird-mix of Victorian and Edwardian novel child mixed with British imperialism. To sum up, Mary is a naïve child and yet, despite her naivety, the side characters are constantly engaged in adult sexual activities throughout the entirety of the book. One example of this include the “lesser” servants romping on page 67 when the watchful presence of Mrs. Medlock is absent.  Two other major characters participate in either implied or explicit sexual activity. The first, the implied, comes from Martha who tells Mary after she returns from her day off: “I didn’t walk all th’ way. A man gave me a ride in his cart an’ I can tell you I did enjoy myself.” The “ride in his cart” that she enjoyed can easily be seen as Martha and the man in the cart having sex.

I think we all know where this one is going...

I think we all know where this one is going…

The second, more explicit, example comes from Ben in referencing the red-breasted Robin when he states that he has been “reddinin’ up thy waistcoat an’ polishin’ thy feathers this two weeks.” Implying both a masturbatory image as well as a potential sexual relationship between the robin and his lovers, both in the past and future.

The reasoning behind all this sexuality, I feel, lies in what I feel is the coming of age story of the story. It is about a woman maturing: Mary goes from a sickly child to a healthy Victorian girl (as well as the significant transformation of Colin). To seal this idea of Mary growing up I’d like to look at one final image of overt sexuality in The Secret Garden: the titular garden. The Secret Garden is an overt reference to the female vagina: specifically, in a sense, Mary’s. Its “untended” nature references the youthfulness of Mary and the blooming of the Garden reflects a girl maturing and blooming into adulthood, more specifically: the blooming of the roses symbolize the menzies (blood) that accompanies a girl’s transition into and life as a grown woman.

These are Roses

These are Roses

Thus, as you can see, the transitioning from childhood to real adulthood – more specifically womanhood- and sex is tied throughout the entire piece and is integral to the story as a whole.

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Five Children and It bibliography

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Drout, Michael D.C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship And Critical Assessment. London: Routledge. 2006. Print

“The New York Review of Books.” The Writing of E. Nesbit by Gore Vidal. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Briggs, Julia. Edith Nesbit: A Woman of Passion. Stroud, Gloucestershire [England: Tempus Pub., 2007. Print.

Smith, Michelle. “E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: Reconfiguring Time, Nation, and Gender.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 52.3 (2009): 298311. Print.

Parker, Sam. “Jacqueline Wilson On Writing ‘Four Children And It…’ (INTERVIEW).” The Huffington Post UK. N.p., 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

 

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Hook: The poor man who can never achieve Form

One of the more interesting parts about Peter and Wendy is Hook’s constant fascination over the concept of “Form.” Throughout Peter and Wendy we see him obsessing over it and, as we discussed in class, the people who worry about form generally don’t have it and those that don’t concern themselves with form attain true grace. However, I would like to further argue that it is physically impossible for Hook to achieve any semblance of true form because of one factor: his deformity, his namesake, his hook, and that this represents for Barrie a method of comparing adulthood with children.

Its a hook

Dun….dun…dun…

Hook, as should be apparent, has lost something that is extraordinarily important to nearly every person: his hand. He is therefore a mangled, deformed human being and, despite being quite deft with his hook, it is no real replacement for the working marvel that is a human hand. Thus, we see that Hook can never truly achieve true, great form for himself because no matter how much he may practice and wax on about great form, he is, in effect, a lesser creature. He is lesser than even the slouching most bestial and uncouth human being, for this human can, at any time, decide to correct his ways and “stand tall.” To bring this to an even more depressing view – Hook, a grown man who cannot stop thinking about his form, cannot maintain a superior form to that of a one-week baby, Peter Pan.

This utterly broken man then must be pitied for he is more of an animal: always gnawing away at some problem that is nearly impossible for him to fix and dies worrying about it. Hook – poor, malformed, missing an essential part of himself that he can never recover – directly corresponds to Barrie’s skewed perspective towards childhood and adulthood. In my interpretation there is no question that Hook, the deformed pirate, comes to represent adulthood for Barrie. I believe that Barrie believes that Adulthood then requires absence – that of some wonderful grace of childhood (form) – and oftentimes is accompanied by constant regret and anxiety  as well as extreme physical changes – the loss of Hook’s hand and puberty respectively- that create a bitter adult who is harassed by childhood (Peter).

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Love of a Tin Man

One of the most intriguing and puzzling aspects of the Wizard of Oz story, for myself, centers around the Tin Man. More specifically: the Tin Man’s back story and how it creates a contradiction when viewed alongside the Tin Man’s intended actions as stated at the end of the Wizard of Oz. In the Tin Man’s back story we find out that the Tin Man falls in love with a munchkin girl and, in the attempt to win her hand in marriage, ends up cutting off all of his limbs and has them replaced with tin. The Tin Man then states that he believes that “I suppose she is still living with the old woman, waiting for me to come after her” and that, should Oz grant him a heart, “I will go back to the Munchkin maiden and marry her.”

Here we can see that the Tin Man clearly states his purpose: once he gains a heart he will find and marry his munchkin girl. However the reader later finds out this is not the case. Glinda inquires into the Tin Man’s plan once Dorothy returns home and the Tin Man replies: “The Winkies were very kind to me, and wanted me to rule over them after the Wicked Witch died. I am fond of the Winkies, and if I could get back again to the Country of the West, I should like nothing better than to rule over them forever.”

I always wanted to rule some people..... and thats it

I always wanted to rule some people….. and that’s it

At this point, Chapter 23, the Tin Man has already gained his “heart” from the great and powerful Oz and does not, at any point after obtaining the heart, think of his “love” the Munchkin girl nor does he even consider returning to munchkin territory as his final wish instead placing himself on the complete opposite side of Oz forevermore.

This then leads to the intriguing question about the Tin Man: Did he truly love the munchkin girl that he was willing to lose all of his limbs for? It appears that he was willing to sacrifice his limbs for her and yet I would argue that it is not love that he felt for this girl. Rather, I feel like the Tin Man can be seen as a “Knight” figure by comparing how  the Tin Man looks to that of a stereotypical image of a Knight in full battle armor as well as the Tin Man’s ruthless efficiency in killing the wolves.

Like Two Men inside some Armor

Like Two Men inside some Armor

This Knight Tin Man held a form of “fealty” to the Munchkin girl. This “fealty”, which the Tin Man wrongly labeled as love, gets transferred to Dorothy and thus he easily forgets the Munchkin girl he “loved” and no longer worries after her fate.

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The Queen and her power

One of the most interesting aspects of “Alice and Wonderland” for me is the power held by the women in Wonderland as well as the awe associated with these women. The most obvious example of this is the Red Queen: The potential for death and their fear of the Queen is so great that they are driven to paint a rosebush red to please her,

Fucking Paint Faster

Fucking Paint Faster

the denizens under her and her guests, who we are told are: “the guests, mostly Kings and Queens,” foreign royalty are all forced into playing a bizarre game of croquet with the Queen and even then are still sentenced to death by beheading. We also see that the Queen even scares another “powerful” woman whom Alice had encountered earlier in her trip through Wonderland; The Duchess.  In fact, the Queen appears to all effects to hold a position more powerful than even the King, a notion that would cause many readers to stumble: not solely due to the inherent feminism of the piece but the way the power dynamic is at odds with what the queen and King are, namely, playing cards. In nearly every card game the King is a more powerful card to have (for instance: a pair of kings beats a pair of queens in poker) and yet the Red Queen appears to outrank her husband the King. This disparity in their power may appear to be at least partially superficial, the King secretly pardons all the croqueteers, yet he does so, quietly and when the Queen is not present. This, I feel, reveals that the Queen is more powerful than the King, and he fears her.

Off with All their heads
Off with All their heads

Why then did Lewis Carroll create this powerful and bloodthirsty woman as the central “antagonist” of the story? I feel that all of these traits lie in examining who Carroll was telling this story to: Three young girls. She is gifted with a blood thirst (that is never truly sated) to provide comedic relief for the story so as to better entertain Carroll’s three young guests and is also given power to “act” on that desire to chop off people’s heads. This “powerful and bloodthirsty” woman then further serves as a foil to Alice (and presumably her two sisters) who is a young woman who does not want any harm to befall even random citizens.

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Curdie’s Mother’s Tale: A brief discourse on Symbolism and Subtext

One of the most striking scenes in The Princess and the Goblin occurs in chapter twenty-three when Curdie’s mother is recounting the tale of her first encounter with the goblins. Soon after she had married Curdie’s father, she was walking and beset by the cobs.

Well, this isn't gonna end well

Well, this isn’t gonna end well

The goblins, along with some of their animals, then “had torn [her] clothes very much, and [she] was afraid they were going to tear [herself] to pieces” when, in the decisive moment before they struck a dove appeared flashing with light and drove away the goblins.

Well yeah it did

Hey look at that! It did.

Now besides offering up a striking visual image of a woman about to be torturously slain by the wicked creatures, this passage struck me both for its symbolism and its subtext.

The most obvious example of symbolism and association is with the Grandmother and the dove. The Grandmother, whom before this instance the reader has evidence has powers either divine or magical, further has her association as a divine protectress is strengthened. She acts to save Curdie’s mother, and does so through the use of a messenger not through her direct intervention. Further association is connected through her choice of messenger: a dove. The dove, an important bird in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is a messenger of peace and here serves that role, preventing the occurrence of violence.

The passage also holds further subtext and reminds me of a Victorian piece entitled “Goblin Market”. The goblins, bestial men, have a woman completely and totally surrounded and alone.  Curdie’s mother then recounts how “They all began … teasing me in a way it makes me shudder to think of even now” and that “They had torn my clothes very much.” Taking all of these factors together, it is not that large of a jump in logic to assume that she was about to become the victim of a brutal raping, possibly more than once. This horrific crime is then kicked up another notch by these simple seven words she uttered before: “not very long before you were born.” She was pregnant at the time the goblins assaulted her, pregnant at the time she was nearly raped, and pregnant at the time she was saved by the Grandmother.

Now this brings to mind one crucial question: Was this the reason then that the Grandmother stepped in and saved Curdie’s mother? Presumably other people have fallen to the cobs and not gotten divine intervention.  I would argue that yes, Curdie’s mother’s pregnancy, and a possibility that her son would save her granddaughter in the future, lends itself to the reasoning as well as further cementing the Grandmother’s role of protector, especially of youth.

For anyone interested in reading Goblin Market: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/crossetti/bl-crossetti-goblin.htm

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Should Kids Today Read of that Beard so Blue

Crimson ichor still dripped from the eviscerated form of the young woman: not a sentence many would expect in a fairy tale intended for children. This scene described above, however, would not be out of place as a description of Bluebeard’s secret room. Many a parent would balk at the idea of having this story, where the corpses are piled seven high, exist in a children’s book today and would certainly not have it be read by their kids. However, I would argue that this Perrault classic deserves its place in children’s book and base my arguments upon two aspects: the first is that the story is beautifully written and moralistic and the second is that it hardly upsets modern sensibilities.

My first argument relies upon the story’s beauty while presenting a dark world that children must come to terms with. Perrault writing of “Bluebeard” is both quick paced and gripping. The reader is left on the edge of their seat with curiosity over “that little closet, which I forbid you [from entering]” and cannot help but wish that, despite Bluebeard’s dire proclamation that should his wife open it that “[she] may expect from my just anger and resentment”, she open the door. Once the wife reveals the gruesome mystery, the reader will wish for the wife to both survive and wreak vengeance upon Bluebeard. Thus, Perrault’s ability to draw the reader in and care greatly commends itself as a book for children. That the reader, aware of dark secrets, reacts, wanting the evil Bluebeard to be struck down reveals the great continuing need of children for morality. Even though evil may be hidden and wreak havoc, the forces for good triumphs in the end. This important example must remain.

Bluebeard Down

My second argument rails against the idea that children shouldn’t be exposed to such a “dark” story. News station continuously discuss horrific events occurring throughout the world, movies and video games, both inherently more graphic mediums, focus on death, killing, and blood.

Its a good thing we all jumped out

Well….we’re going to be on the news

In the midst of all these virtual bombardments of gore, can anyone say that a dark story will be the one thing that scars a child? A story that, contrary to most tales children will hear on the news, ends on a happy note. The answer is a resounding no. Perrault’s masterpiece must remain and continue to intrigue, teach, and be appreciated by people of all ages. Furthermore, as the story tells us, why should we forbid it from the children? They will only end up wanting to read it all the more.

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Me, Myself, and Michael: Introduction

for introduction

Hello fellow classmates! Some people call me…  Michael Gonzalez although most people don’t use my full name and just call me Michael. I am a junior at the University of Florida (shocker on that second part I’m sure) and am currently enrolled in the Classics Major. Hopefully soon, when I finish up my application, I’ll be accepted to double Major in English though I’m unsure about my “focus” since I enjoy writing creative works. A fun fact about me is that in 2011 I wrote a nano during NaNoWriMo. I am also a Hispanic who was born and raised in suburban Miami, and true to the stereotype, I am Cuban. Furthermore, I am also Jewish, though I’ve been told I don’t look it but I didn’t really know that there is a distinctive “Jewish” look but oh well.

I decided to sign up for Golden Age of Children’s Literature on the recommendation of Professor John Cech with whom I took “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” last semester. I’m taking this course because I am interested in Children’s literature as well as working towards my intended English Degree. For this class I am looking forward to reading Winnie the Pooh as well as Peter Pan.

My idea of “Children’s Literature” entails any book that was either intended to be read by young children or any book, through rabid spread in popularity or other reasons, come to be read by children. I have never taken a children’s literature course though I have taken several courses, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, that could be construed as children’s literature. My favorite children’s title must be the Harry Potter series because of nostalgia, enjoyment, and how I can place my love of literature squarely on my reading the first two books. Finally, I feel that the term “Golden Age” applies to the era that we would place in the classic literature section of the bookstore in the exercise we performed in class.

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