Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children's Fiction

Views: 823
Ratings: (0)

On its first publication Narratives of Love and Loss was widely recognised as an important and perceptive contribution to the study of children's literature and for its capacity to stimulate deep emotional responses in both child and adult readers. This welcome reissue includes a new postscript exploring in detail the phenomenal success of J.K Rowling's series of Harry Potter stories.Margaret and Michael Rustin succeed in bringing a deep sociological and psychoanalytic close reading to some of the finest writing for children in post-war Britain and America, including works by C.S. Lewis, Rumer Godden, E.B. White and Russel Hoban.Focussed primarily on the 'fantasy genre of stories' the authors identify and sensitively explore the themes of imaginative and emotional growth, language and play, love and loss; always situating these within the broader social and cultural context.Written in a clear and accessible manner, this is a richly stimulating and insightful book that will be of great interest not only to all professionals concerned with the well-being of children, but to all adults who receive pleasure from this evocative literary genre.

List price: $32.99

Your Price: $26.39

You Save: 20%

 

11 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1. Loneliness, Dreaming and Discovery:

ePub

Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden is one of the finest stories for children to be published in Britain since the war. It was a Carnegie Medal-winner in 1958, it has been many times reprinted, and it is now widely regarded as a modern classic. It exemplifies in a particularly clear way each of the three themes we have outlined in the introductory chapter above. We try to account for the moving quality and beauty of this work in terms of the emotional and imaginative states of mind that it makes real, and we interpret these mental states through the modes of thinking of (broadly) Kleinian psychoanalysis. The story also describes the way in which a child of modern times comes to enter imaginatively into the lives of a period two generations ago. The story explores in quite complex ways the balance of gain and loss involved in this process of change. Thirdly, the story achieves its effect in part through its intense power of metaphor. The story involves its readers in understanding that loving communication between children and adults often takes place through the medium of language and story-telling itself. In these ways this story is a perfect exemplar of the view of children’s fiction we want to develop through this whole book.

 

2. Narnia: An Imaginary Land as Container of Moral and Emotional Adventure

ePub

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are among the most successful of a long line of books for children which use the device of transporting children into a world outside our everyday world of experience.1 In such worlds, we can encounter different kinds of tiny creatures, different historical moments and landscapes, and child heroes can have adult-scale adventures. The child reader can bear the terrors of moral choices in which the death of goodness is at stake, in the knowledge that the children facing these also have a secure place back home in the ordinary world of family life and school, where adults are of human dimensions, and children’s responsibilities are limited. Lewis described the books as ‘fairy tales’, and drew attention to the implicit appeal to both adults and children of this genre and his writing, and the series is one which can be read at multiple levels of sophistication. The popularity of the Narnia books is in part based on the satisfaction available to adult and child in a shared reading, and the possibility for a child to re-read old favourites at changing levels of understanding.

 

3. Magic Wishes and the Self Explorationsof Children: Five Children and It

ePub

E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It and its two later sequels (The Pheonix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet) are early and influential examples of a whole genre of fiction for children. This is the genre of stories about holidays, which take a family of children out of their everyday environment, away from the daily experiences and constraints of school, and often away from their parents too. With the wider experience of annual summer holidays among the middle classes and, later on, among most of the population, child readers are prepared by the initial setting of such stories to read about adventures: a world of strange places and people, and days or even weeks in which to play freely as stray events and the imagination suggest. These stories often evoke the distinct emotional rhythm of a holiday - the first excitement, the explorations of new places, deep immersion in a self-contained world of play, and a final sadness and reflectiveness as the holiday comes to an end. This distinctive framing, with its clearly-marked beginning and ending, and its location out of normal time and space, allows these stories to be shaped by the imaginative or internal experience of the children they create, since the routines of the everyday world can be ignored or taken up just as the writer wishes. The intense emotions often aroused by holidays also become important themes in the best of this writing, and have to be dealt with somehow even in the worst. The experience of a holiday can be elaborated into a metaphor of ‘internal experience’ or of space for emotional development, speaking to and moving the child (and adult) reader through this latent depth of meaning.

 

4. The Life of Dolls: Rumer Godden’s Understanding of Children’s Imaginative Play

ePub

In this chapter, we look at four stories for young children by Rumer Godden, three of which are about dolls and children’s relationship to them, and the fourth of which is about the image of a madonna and child made by a child for a grownup woman. The four stories evoke the strength of feeling of small children for dolls and similar fantasy objects. They suggest to us a close correspondence between the themes of these stories and the kinds of play they describe, and the emotional issues with which children are concerned in ‘real life’.

The three dolls’ stories are The Dolls’ House (1947), The Fairy Doll (1955) and The Story of Holly and Ivy (1957). Each of the stories represent dolls as having thoughts and feelings. The dolls can talk to each other, but not to people. In relation to children, who are very important to them, they are passive, and able to do no more than wish. Wishes are powerful, however, and at high points they may be able to make things happen; things fall mysteriously, for example. The stories thus establish a boundary between the humans and the doll people, while nevertheless allowing the dolls to be sufficiently active in their own thoughts and feelings to be figures in a drama. The dolls depend on the children to be made and kept alive. Their conversations with each other are so to speak in the roles which have been made for them in the children’s play. ‘Dolls are not like us; we are alive as soon as we are born, but dolls are not really alive until they are played with’ (Holly and Ivy).

 

5. The Maternal Capacities of a Small Boy: The Indian in the Cupboard

ePub

The subject of our previous chapter, the ‘doll stories’ of Rumer Godden, concerned the relationship between the imaginative play and the emotional development mainly of small girls. Rumer Godden’s work thus mostly falls on one side of a conventional distinction between fiction mainly written for girls, which often takes themes of fantasy and make-believe centred around relationships within the family, and fiction written for boys, which is more often about physical and outdoor adventure.

Lynne Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard (published as recently as 1980 but in our view of a quality to stand with the very best classic children’s books) cuts across those genre boundaries. It is about boys, and it features an Indian and a cowboy, only the Indian and the cowboy are little plastic toys come to life. The intense relationship of the children in the story, Omri and Patrick, to their made-alive toys, is thus similar to the relationship of Rumer Godden’s little girl characters to their dolls, while the preoccupations of the children in each case are nevertheless typically defined by their gender. The conventional classifications of gender and genre are also crossed in another way. One of the main underlying themes of The Indian in the Cupboard (we will abbreviate this to The Indian from now on) is the relationship of its main character, Omri, to his mother - not so much on the surface, which is warm and undisturbed, but in memory and phantasy. The story is able to explore, through a boy’s relationship with toys which are conventionally masculine, the more feminine aspects of his character.

 

6. Animals in Reality and Fantasy: Two Stories by Philippa Pearce

ePub

This chapter is concerned with two of Philippa Pearce’s later stories, A Dog So Small and The Battle of Bubble and Squeak, Each of these stories further explores the theme of loneliness and emotional need central to Tom’s Midnight Garden. The contemporary urban setting of most children’s lives is more in the foreground of these stories than in the first, and a child’s attempted escape from the limitations of this environment is in each case described less by depicting an alternative rural world (though this exists for Ben in A Dog So Small at his grandparents’ house) than by the children’s attachment to the aspect of the natural represented by a pet animal or the idea of one. In these two stories, Pearce shows her profound understanding of the longing and affection that children often project into their relations with animals, and in each case is able to show how such feelings are shaped by the vicissitudes of her child characters’ relationships with their families at a particular moment of development.

 

7. The Poetic Power of Ordinary Speech: E. B. White’s Children’s Stories

ePub

Re-reading and thinking about E.B. White’s books for children during a year’s recent stay in the United States brought us in contact with the extraordinary place his work occupies in that part of children’s cultural experience that is shared with adults. Charlotte’s Web is a book people remember having listened to in school, and these recollections include the class’s tears over Charlotte’s death. In local library surveys of ‘most popular’ books amongst today’s American children, it regularly tops the list. It has also achieved a prominent place in children’s reading on the British side of the Atlantic, perhaps loved not only for its remarkable engagement with universal emotional experience - love and dependence, loss and death, growth and change - and the way in which White brings fundamental, often unconscious, childhood anxieties into the realm of thought and imagination, but also for its distinctively American qualities. The hero and heroine belong in a tradition of triumphant optimistic individualism, in which the individual is nourished by family and community and his or her identity acquired and sustained through intertwined living with others. This is a pattern of life ideally attuned to the younger child’s vision, and an ideal of personal and social integration which remains powerfully attractive long after childhood ends.

 

8. Who Believes in ‘Borrowers’?

ePub

Mary Norton’s Borrowers have inspired a classic five-volume series. They are tiny people-like creatures whose natural habitat is in secret places in the houses of human beings (or ‘human beans’ as they call us), and they live by ‘borrowing’ the tiny objects and minute quantities of food needed to support their lives. Even their names are borrowed. They have nothing of their own at all, but ‘they thought they owned the world’. Those human beings who become aware of the Borrowers’ lives in Mary Norton’s stories are characteristically struggling with a sense of what they do not have, and the manner in which felt deprivation is dealt with is one of the themes of these books. This is relevant both in matters of historical setting - the British war and post-war preoccupations with lost family members, evacuation, rationing, ‘making do,’ improvising, sharing and ‘pulling together’ to tackle things pervade these books - and in Norton’s sensitive psychological grasp of the inner problems of character and development to which deprivation and loss give rise.

 

9. Making Out in America: The Mouse and His Child

ePub

The Mouse and His Child is something of an American epic novel scaled down for child readers. It provides a double point of identification for its reader, both through the fantasy of a toy come to life (a theme shared with many earlier stories such as Pinocchio and The Little Wooden Horse1) and through the toy mouse’s being characterized as a child, with a child’s primary preoccupations. The mouse child’s longing and hope is to reconstitute a home and a family, remembered from his earliest days of consciousness in the dolls’ house in the toy shop, where an elephant sang him a lullaby and where there was a seal whom he later chose to be his adopted sister:

‘Maybe we could look for the elephant and the seal and the dolls’ house that used to be in the store with us/ said the child. ‘Couldn’t we, Papa?’

‘What in the world for?’ said the father.

‘So we can have a family and be cosy/ answered the child.

This mouse-child’s longings have the power to remake the world of this story, bringing about the marriage of his father, the adoption of a sister and three uncles (Frog, the kingfisher and the bittern) and the redemption of their main enemy, the gangster king of the dump, Manny Rat, and his eventual adoption as the fourth uncle. The potency of the child’s longings and dreams is a powerful realization of a child’s view of the world, made universal through the story, by constant reference to the main characters not by names, which they seem to lack, but as ‘the father’ and ‘the child’. In the context of this story, the moving force of the child’s hopes for his family also carries a specific social meaning.

 

10. Inner Implications of Extended Traumas: Carrie’s War

ePub

Nina Bawden is a writer greatly enjoyed by children, and admired by adult readers of children’s fiction. Her work is full of themes that have also interested other good children’s writers: childhood recalled (as in Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden), the impact of moving house, especially town and country contrasts (as in E. Nesbit), wartime experience (as with Mary Norton’s Borrowers), the impact of family separations (also central in Bawden’s delightful book The Peppermint Pig); the meaning of magic and myth for children (also explored with varying success for example by Ursula Le Guin, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner); the frightening aloneness of a child with a belief or fear which cannot be shared. In Carrie’s War, Nina Bawden tells the story of the wartime evacuation to a Welsh mining village of a child, Carrie, and her brother Nick. She attempts to show the way in which Carrie’s experience there is woven into her imaginative life and personality. Carrie revisits the place twenty years later with her own children; the story is set in the context of ‘la recherche du temps perdu’. The framing of the story is not wholly successful, but the intensely remembered events of the months of evacuation provide a moving and compelling encounter with twelve-year old Carrie, and repay a detailed reading.

 

11. Finding Oneself among Strangers: Three Stories by Paula Fox

ePub

Paula Fox’s books for children are written from the first person point of view, and the child’s voice and viewpoint achieve access to the delicate interplay between inner preoccupations, the central themes of the child’s mental and emotional life, and the readiness for particular experiences which are resonant with these internally powerful concerns. It is as if the children she writes about so beautifully have a not entirely conscious (pre-conscious, as Freud would say) idea of something they are looking for. The representation of a search for something not yet discovered in the internal or external world of the child, which yet has to be somewhere, is the thread which links the stories structurally. The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion has written of the ‘preconceptions’ of the infant, which need to meet up with lived experience, and it is this area of mental life which Fox explores compellingly, delineating the moments of developmental integration in which the child’s dilemma comes to be resolved or restated through a poignant experience of him- or herself in-the-world in interaction with others. The moving quality of the stories, which are often quite simple in themselves, arises from this focus on the child’s fresh grasping of him- or herself, and the extraordinary concomitant flowering of hopefulness, when the inner and outer worlds of experience are in dynamic connection. What is also very striking in Fox’s works is the combination of such a depth of psychological understanding of her child characters and a rich and precise evocation of the social worlds they live in. The nature of the city child’s world, whether twentieth-century Brooklyn or nineteenth-century New Orleans, is convincingly recreated, and the individual lives of her child heroes, located in a historical and social moment, allow the child’s personal experience also to illuminate for the reader the nature of the place and time within which that child is finding a way to live.

 



Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781780497389
Isbn
9781780497389
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata