le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

it is better to die than to live

evidently, in the 19th century schoolboy story.

I just finished Oudendale by Ascott Hope, and it was another lovely downer in the same vein as The Hill and Eric.

all these damn kids are so happy and eager to die....it's truly creepy.

I know the religious ideology behind this, but how does it comport with christianity to be so eager to leave this world? i mean, shouldn't you desire to do the lord's work on earth until he calls you home? isn't it selfish to want to leave this world for a better one?


Read Karin Calvert's Children in the House, which is a historical overview of material culture in America from 1600-1900. it was mostly unenlightening, a presentation of historical information. mildly interesting.

Is it legit to refer to American home furnishings of the late 19th century as "Victorian"?

Victorian to me is British (and brit. colonial). In the States, very different things were happening: the civil war, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, etc.

Tonight is the first night of my class, and I am inexplicably nervous ( I just never get nervous before teaching). I've been so wrapped up in planning and preparing and thinking about this class that I haven't had much time for the Project.

as a "treat" to set the tone of the course, I'm going to show them Tim Burton's killer first short film, VINCENT. if you haven't seen it, you must! it's delightful, and narrated by Vincent Price himself.

It's about 7 minutes long, and it's a paean to weirdness in childhood. perfect for my class on the weird, grim, gothic, morbid, spooky and creepy!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Katawampus and Invisible Playmate

Today's books:

Katawampus, by Edward Abbot Parry (1895) and The Invisible Playmate by William Canton (1894).

Katawampus is yet another story of Bad Children who are sent to some fantasy realm to be cured of their badness (fitted for new tempers and good manners). There's a nice chapter on the Parliament of Toys, with the solid old classics as Conservatives, and cheap flashy new toys as Liberals. The tone of this one is pretty light-hearted - very Nesbit-ish, actually, which is not all that surprising since Parry is contemporaneous with Nesbit. Short and sweet, a generally pleasant read, over and done.

The Invisible Playmate: wtf?????

I don't know what to make of this one. I need to re-read, i think, because I feel a bit perplexed about the timeline. The story has a very Turn of the Screw, Jamesian quality to it, which makes it rather eerie. I knew something creepy was going to happen from the beginning - I don't know if it's the doubled narrators (our narrator, plus the letter-writing papa) or some other quality that tipped me off to that.

Quite truly, I don't know what to make of this book. I'd love for someone to simply explain it to me......I don't know Canton, never heard of this story until one of my professors suggested it. It has some Romantic overtones, and reminds me as well of Thomas De Quincey's essays on the deaths of his sister and of little Kate Wordsworth.....it also reminds me strongly of Barrie, and the narrator of The Little White Bird. I'll place The Invisible Playmate in the list of "men who dote on lost/dead/nonexistent children" for now, until I (or someone else) can make some sense of it for me.....

I've begun reading the introduction to Elaine Freedgood's The Ideas in Things (2006), and it's pretty exciting. Freedgood is, I think, proposing a model that is one I've already considered for my own work. More exciting is the newness of her project; her approach to things is, at least according to her, one that has not been undertaken in quite that way before. This makes me hopeful that I can adopt and adapt some of her methodology for my own project in children's lit.

I do wonder about the problem of so much "realist fantasy" in children's lit. Freedgood mentions the abundance of things in realist fiction of the Victorian era, and I think you get that same kind of abundance in children's fiction as well. But much of that is fantasy - often the home/away/home that presents "reality" in the home, and the fantastic in the away. But even the fantasy worlds are chock-full of THINGS. Freedgood is, evidently, attempting to look at the things not as metonyms or allegorical objects, but as things themselves.

I'll have to read more but what little I'm read so far is quite exciting.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Little by Little (spoilers)

Tonight's completed book is Rev Farrar's rather ghastly Eric; or, Little by Little. This one is published in 1858, and it's a school story of a very different vein: Eric Williams, our protagonist, "little by little" sinks into moral turpitude (drinking! smoking! swearing! stealing! leading little boys astray!). Eric starts off a cheery, honorable, bright boy but eventually, peer pressure and his desire to be popular leads him down the primrose path.

Three boys die in this book, Eric last of them. He's killed his mother with grief after he runs away from school (suspected of theft) and joins a ship full of even more morally depraved folks than himself, and he expires on the lawn, finally seeing that he has a Father in Heaven looking after him.

This book is just another in an evidently unending stream of books about children and teenagers dying.

One of the things I'm puzzling over is: what is this book, exactly? Is it a condemnation of the perils of the public schools? Eric is at Roslyn, which i think is a fictional school. There is no regulation amongst the boys, by the boys (which we see in Tom Brown and The Hill, and elsewhere); the whole school seems to be a den of iniquity (which begs the question: why would anyone send their child there? what's wrong with the masters and Head that they don't see these things happening, and don't intervene?)

The other, more intriguing puzzle, is that Eric is a kind of "india-orphan." He's sent from India at age 4, to live with an aunt, while his parents remain in India. Later, he's joined by his parents and younger brother for one year, at the end of which the parents both return to India. Is there a critique of absentee parents here? I can't help thinking that there is....the weird anti-colonial strand that runs through British children's texts seems to have a hold here, as well as in more obvious texts (The Secret Garden, Kipling). The Imperial enterprise has stolen this boy's parents from him (and ultimately, both Eric and his brother die), leaving the colonizing parents childless.

Hrm. I just recalled some professor's proclamation that: There is no future in Empire, but I cannot remember who said it, or in what context......possibly in discussing the sickly yellowish children of English Empire-builders???

I'm not overwhelmingly interested in the Empire as an area of study; it's interesting, and I like a lot of imperial-related texts, and the project of the Empire touches every aspect of British life, but it simply isn't central to my thinking and my interests. That said, Eric; or Little by Little, seems most useful in this context.

(I also have a vague memory of a Nesbit child character scorning to read the book when given it by an elderly aunt).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

australians and fairies

The Project staggers along. i feel like I am reading an insane amount - I think I'm averaging a book a day - in addition to preparing my fall syllabus, having a life and trying to do some renovating around the house.

Alas, I am not reading fast enough. I think it is physically impossible for me to NOT read a novel in its entirety, unless it's hideously bad (With Clive in India springs to mind). So i can't condense my fiction-reading; I'm already skimming perilously large chunks of, say, Tom Brown's Schooldays, and anything about cricket (the Sport That Baffles). I've been trying to get through the primary texts before hitting the critical stuff, but I'm going to have to fly into high gear with those soon.

I'm a little confused about the project papers: the first is a kind of lit review, I think, an overview of the field/texts read. How can I POSSIBLY write an overview when I haven't read everything yet?
This is a true mystery, and I shall have to discover the answer pretty damn quick if I want to keep my head above water.

Now: the BOOKS!

I'm struggling to finish Arthur Conan Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies. I've been plugging away at it, but I get so cringingly embarrassed for Mr Doyle that I have to put the book down. It's a peculiar text, for sure, and one wonders how Doyle was able to reason and rationalize fairies, while also being the author of the rather sharply and smartly constructed Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
The Coming of the Fairies is an attempt to prove the existence of fairies, based largely on Doyle's investigation (with a few psychic/theosophist acquaintances) of the Cottingley fairies (pictured here). The painstaking lengths Doyle & Co go to to find experts who will verify the purity of the photos is mortifying to read about. People around the country are swearing up and down that there is NO CONCEIVABLE WAY these photos could be faked. But of course, they are: the girls who perpetrated the fairy hoax admitted to it in some interviews in the 1980s. They constructed the fairies out of fabric, cardboard and other materials, and staged the photos. I give them credit for being rather good artists - those are lovely fairies.
But Doyle's credulity is truly embarrassing to encounter. He relies so heavily on extraordinarily flimsy testimony. When he begins to cite examples of "upstanding, honest citizens" who have seen, and talked with, fairies, I wanted to die. People who see and speak with fairies and gnomes are....well, not right in the head.
I only know a very little about the popularity of fairies through the Victorian era (and clearly, into the 20th century), but this is such a cringeworthy attempt to rationally demonstrate not just the possibility, but the true, verifiable existence of fairies. Doyle also leans on the Romantic view of childhood - the girls can see the fairies, and capture them on film, because they, the girls, are still children. Once the two are older, they are no longer able to see and document the fairies. The elder's reticence to speak about the fairies, once she's in her 20s, is telling, but Doyle ignores this entirely. Her monosyllabic answers to fairy-related questions are reported, but never really analysed; Doyle just blithely moves on to quoting the findings of some local psychic experts.
It's an embarrassing read, well and truly. But I LOVE the photo of the girl with the gnome. I think that gnome is hysterically funny.

Now, for Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner (with SPOILERS). Published in the 1890s, this is evidently one of the first and classic texts of Australian children's lit. Naturally, I'd never heard of it before beginning this project (I'm weirdly ignorant of anglophone children's lit outside of England/Scotland/America). Despite its being readily available, apparently, in every Australian bookshop, I had to request it via interlibrary loan from someplace on the other side of pennsylvania. I found this odd.

The book itself: um, wow. I spent the first 50 pages being horrified at Esther, the young (20-year-old) stepmum. Actually, I was really horrified by Captain Woolcot, really, for being so disengaged with his children, and for marrying such a young girl (when his eldest child is 16!). It seemed so.....Hugh Hefner. Then again, maybe in the 1890s the exigencies of life in Australia made that sort of marriage seem reasonable. I simply don't know my Australian history or culture well enough (though I do know about the thylacine and the weird and wonderful animals of Australia).

There were strong parallels for me in this book with Little Women: Judy made a lovely Jo, Meg made a great, um, Meg (the chapter in little women titled "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair" is essentially the blueprint for Meg Woolcot's escapades under the influence of Aldith. Even darling Nell had resonance for me with Amy.

I liked Turner's writing style; I like rowdy, rambunctious, large families in interesting locales in the late 19th century. I was really shocked by the book's conclusion; it felt weirdly out of place in such an otherwise cheerful - or rather buoyant - text. Judy's sacrifice pissed me off, too; she seemed so much the most interesting of the children. Meg's "flirtations" with Mr Gillet gave me mild heebie-jeebies, as well. But Judy's death was uncomfortable and scary, and I appreciated that (Unlike Janeway's and Stretton's children, who happily smile their way into death). It was dreadful to read Judy's words as she tells Meg that she doesn't want to die, that she's scared, that she'll be lonely.

Overall, I don't know quite what to make of this book. I rather enjoyed reading it, and I found the remove to Australia a very refreshing and exciting change from all the time I've spent at boys' public schools lately (Harrow, Rugby, gah!). The moralizing was minimal but then suddenly became heavyhanded, in the last few chapters - after the children and Esther have gone to the country, to Esther's parents' home.

Turner hints at a sequel text, and I'd be REALLY keen to read that; she leaves off so clearly ready to tell us more about her characters.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Maria Edgeworth says: GET TO WORK!

I'm reading The Parent's Assistant (1796) now, and while it isn't bad reading, exactly, it isn't good reading either.

The moral of the stories:


the class-ishness of it bothers me, of course; the way for affluent young ladies to help the poor folk is to hire them as servants. crikey. I guess that's good, and I know how class worked, but it still makes me uncomfortable. When Simple Susan is trying to scrape together 2 guineas, why don't the fine ladies just give her two damn guineas, instead of resorting to elaborate work schemes? Why buy her a dress when what she NEEDS and WANTS are the two guineas???

Cheerful industry in the face of grueling poverty and hunger has always struck me as....improbably. At least Hesba Stretton gave her cheerful, industrious poor folks some religion to rely on; Edgeworth's poor people evidently just like working themselves to the bone for next to nothing.

But this makes me wonder about Edgeworth's audience, who were more likely to be affluent young ladies than cheerful poverty-stricken kids. So is the lesson: be kind to poor people, some of them deserve your kindness?

Also, is it really charity if you're motivated to your good works by the thanks you receive? somehow, that part seems to be really central to these stories - scenes of cheerful industrial poor people bringing flowers and baked goods to the wealthy, to thank (most pathetically, I think) the wealthy for letting them, the poor people, work?

Should I quibble with anything that seeks to instill a spirit of charity and generosity in its audience?


Thursday, August 02, 2007

gorey details

I'm getting SO EXCITED about my fall class!

My tentative syllabus now features:

Janeway and Newbery
Andersen and Grimm's fairytales (possibly a Hoffmann fairytale)
Alice in Wonderland
"Amelia and the Dwarves," "Speaking Likenesses" "The New mother" (Ewing, Rossetti, Clifford)
Little Meg's Children - Hesba Stretton
At the Back of the North Wind
"Letting in the Jungle" - Kipling, from the Jungle Books (possibly coupled with Stretton?)
Wizard of Oz
Peter Pan
E. Nesbit Book***
Lion, the witch & the wardrobe
The Witches
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (?)
Edward Gorey (?)
The Golden Compass

critical texts??? - Freud on The Uncanny; Todorov on the uncanny and the fantastic (thus Hoffmann and the sandman).

*** On the subject of Nesbit!
I thought I was going to use The Story of the Amulet, but I'm not sure it's weird/grim/disturbing enough. I'd like to pair it with Stretton, because of their common concern with poverty/social justice, but I'm just not sure. I INSIST on including a nesbit text, however. I could go with some of her short stories (including The Aunt and Amabel, which sets up the Narnia book really well). I'm also debating The Magic City, which is by far my favorite Nesbit. The Pretenderette strikes me as a rather sinister character, and many of Philip's adventures inPolistarchia are rather spooky.

I'm thinking that, on my first day of class, I'll show Tim Burton's short film VINCENT, about the little boy who wants to be/thinks he is Vincent Price. It's the child playing at the gothic, and it's very much the antithesis of what most students think of as "childlike."


I can't wait to finish my syllabus. I am really excited about this class; I only hope my students are on board this time!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

tag i'm it - a personal deviation

since this is my "professional" and "academic" blog, I try to keep it pretty impersonal (i have other spaces to vent and rant and generally air my dirty laundry online).

HOWEVER: Marius, whose blog I quite love, tagged me, so I must respond!

Four jobs I have had or currently have in my life:
1. retail sales associate, Hallmark card shop
2. call center worker, Fisher-Price (temp job, very few calls to answer. very boring)
3. administrative assistant, Reading Is Fundamental
4. office assistant/work-study office monkey, New College office of housing and student affairs (best job ever!!!!)

Four countries I have been to:
1. Norway
2. Denmark
3. France
4. Ireland

Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. Paris
2. southwest Ireland
3. Copenhagen
4. Norway (all of it, any part of it)

Four foods I like to eat:
1. grilled cheese sandwiches
2. gnocchi (really good gnocchi, that is)
3, Haagen=dazs vanilla swiss almond ice cream
4. havarti and (good) gouda cheese