wayfarers all

children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

My Photo
Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


I'm currently interested in adults who act like children (in literature, mainly). For instance: Mr Dick of David Copperfield - an adult man who is consistenty characterized as childlike. Mr Dick clearly has some kind of diagnosable condition (autism, maybe? i don't know enough to diagnose a fictional character), so his behavior is not a choice nor an act, a performance. but the special position given to him in the text intrigues me.

....because i am also interested in PeeWee Herman as a character. the man/child thing is something i find fascinating, especially the public's response to it. i haven't done thorough research - really just cursory searches - but haven't found any good criticism about old PeeWee.

I'm currently reading, with my nice boyfriend (we've made our own bookclub!) Paul Auster's novel City of Glass, which has an adult who was a feral child (I think - I've only read about 75 pages and the nature of the book makes everything uncertain). he hasn't quite "recovered" -he is still a childish man, having been discovered at something like age 11 and then "brought up" from a state of virtual developmental infancy.

there's something to all this adult/child stuff, but i haven't quite sorted it out yet. it's quite clear to me why all the cases i've found are of Man/children (women are already historically aligned with children and infantilized - woman/child is practically an oxymoron from a critical perspective - although it's used in reverse, to describe an overly sophisticated - sexually - female child or teenager). but the man/child "character" needs more thinking.....

a few words about pittsburgh

i like pittsburgh. a lot. i never expected i would, coming from a similarly-situated rust belt town (buffalo - well, a suburb of it), but pittsburgh is pretty fabulous. lots of diversity. interesting shopping districts with independent shops (and larger plazas with all the chain retailers you could ever need). tons of interesting architecture, even in little apartment buildings such as my own. i passed a decrepit abandoned building today - it looked like maybe a small apartment building or a series of rowhouses) - broken, boarded windows, overgrown lawns, the works - but it was a beautifu building all the same. dark brick, porches, big bay windows, dormers, gables - gables, like you see in amsterdam and bruges. i wanted to buy and renovate. too bad i am merely a poor student with no plans to Settle Down in the near future.

but pittsburgh is culturally and intellectually alive, incredibly beautiful - hills and rivers and parks all over the place - cheap to live in, has a reasonably friendly population and blissfully little traffic (i moved here from Our Nation's Capital, a sinkhole of mean aggressive drivers with huge gas guzzling vehicles).

it is a Nice Place to Visit, and i might even want to live here (once i finish school, that is).

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

J.M. Barrie in the New Yorker

Anthony Lane has a piece in the November 22 edition of the New Yorker titled "Why J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan." The piece is clearly piggybacking on the release of "Finding Neverland," the Barrie bio film starring Johnny Depp & Kate Winslet.

Lane's piece is all right, for the most part, but he (like nearly all the critics I've read on the subject) gets it wrong when he discusses Barrie's marvellous 1902 novel The Little White Bird (TLWB). TLWB is a good read all on its own, and of particular interest for being the source text for what became the play, then novelization of, Peter Pan. It also allows critics to misread and misquote to set of alarm bells of pedophilia. Lane manages to both ring those alarms and clear Barrie's name of any wrongdoing. But the quotes-out-of-context really irk me because they add to the sensationalism surrounding Barrie's friendships with the Llewellyn-Davies boys.
Lane quotes this paragraph from TLWB:
""I returned to David, and asked him in a low voice whether he would give me a kiss. He shook his head about six times, and I was in despair. Then the smile came, and I knew that he was teasing me only. He now nodded his head about six times. That was the prettiest of all his exploits."
What Lane does not tell us is that David, at this point, is still a small baby in a perambulator, and it is the narrator's first meeting with the baby. Lane's comment that the "sheer weirdness of Barrie" takes off in TLWB is ridiculous - honestly, has he read the whole book? The narrator invents and "kills" his own son in order to give baby clothes to David, whose parents are very short of money. Lane also wonders about contemporary reception - there is one often-cited review from the TLS that makes it clear that Barrie's contemporaries were not obsessed with the specter of child molestation. (For more on the subject of child molestation and pedophilia, and its connection to the construction of the child, please see James Kincaid's excellent Erotic Innocence).
The Little White Bird is one of the most heart-wrenching novels I've ever read. At its heart is the narrator's wish to have a child of his own, to be a parent with a family to love and be loved by. If you haven't read this novel, you really should, and then follow it up with Andrew Birkin's even more heart-wrenching Barrie biography The Lost Boys, which has recently been reprinted.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

the youth vote

(or lack thereof). Everyone, evidently, is disappointed by the low - or at least not-increased - turnout of young voters (ages 18-25). 17% in 2000; 17% in 2004.
I'm disappointed too. but i'm also pretty irked at the way both candidates and parties largely ignored real issues affecting young voters - plenty of words, words, words, about the Future of America! and Young People Need to Vote! but you know, I want to know about plans to help provide health insurance to the 18-24 set, the largest group of uninsured americans. I want to hear the candidates' ideas about creating federal scholarships or grants - NOT just loans - so teenagers can go to college or other training schools if they want to. I want to hear about the environment - people my age have been raised up thinking Reduce, Reuse Recycle - why not talk about initiatives for increased recycling - bins on every corner in America! Or the bigger issues, like protecting wildlife at home and worldwide; reducing emissions and maybe even signing on to the Kyoto Treaty. Or talking more about expanding options for alternative fuels - hybrid vehicles are just the beginning, and they're HERE.
How about addressing minor injustices, like higher car insurance rates for young drivers, or the fact that rental car companies charge a very large fee for renting to under-25s. How about pitching a plan to allow under-18 year old workers to not pay taxes on their earnings (they can't vote, after all)? Or to put those taxes into some kind of fund for helping with college education, or purchasing a home? That kids who can't vote STILL have to pay taxes is, in my mind, hugely unjust. Think about it - they pay into medicare and social security - those get taken regardless of income tax refunds - but don't get to vote for those who administer those programs.

Hint to the Democrats: spend the next three years seriously considering youth issues. do research. do studies. get out in the field and find out what matters to people in high school and college. don't refer to them as kids, either, or patronize them with semi-celebrities and the children of candidates. don't act like the Youth only appear every four years to disappoint you in the voting booth. For every concession you even consider for seniors, think of one for young people. find ways to engage with under 25s that aren't patronizing. There's a lot these kids have never had to think about before they turn 18, 20, 22 - help them, give them time, understand that the important issues to them may not appeal to old people or middle-class families, but are still important issues worth thinking about.

Neither Bush nor Kerry spoke to the 18-25 year olds. Any wonder they didn't come out to vote?

Monday, November 01, 2004

kansas charley

I just finished Joan Jacobs Brumberg's book: Kansas Charley: The story of a nineteenth century boy murderer. Charley is a boy who murders, not a murderer of boys (although he is that, too). It was interesting but I do wish Brumberg had spent more time on a broader discussion of juvenile justice and juvenile death penalty cases/issues. The book really is about Kansas Charley, although oddly enough, there isn't much in there about Charley himself - he ends up being a kind of absence in the middle of the book. He evidently spoke very little during his trials; interviews with him are only excerpted in the book. Charley's voice, speaking for himself, is largely absent.
Otherwise, a fantastic case analysis that helps historicize the current anxieties over kids who kill.

Free Counter
Free Hit Counter