Representations of Childhood in Contemporary British Literature
Taught with Katharina Pietsch in Winter 2015.
We all know what a child is, right? We’ve all been children ourselves after all. But to what extent is our adult memory of what it means to be a child, to have been a child, filtered through cultural conceptions – or even prescriptions? What are adult authors doing when they write child characters, their perceptions, their emotions, their voices? Can they represent children authentically at all? Or do they create them, construct them, and in that way contribute to historically embedded societal conceptions of what children are or should be?
Since the 1960s the focus of Childhood Studies has been the socio-historical construction of childhood. Childhood can be framed as a biological and psychological phase of development, a state of (endangered) moral innocence, a state of imperfection that needs adult guidance and schooling, a state of unruliness that needs to be checked (or encouraged), a political site where the reproduction of human capital and cultural values is at stake, and so on. None of these conceptions is ‘natural’, all of them are culturally mediated, and all of them can be questioned critically.
In this seminar, we will both explore and question how this construction of childhood works in a number of selected contemporary British novels:
- Toby Litt: deadkidsongs (read before start of semester)
- Roddy Doyle: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (read before start of semester)
- Diana Evans: 26a
- Pat Barker: Another World
- Ian McEwan: The Child in Time