Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Michaelmas Term 2010 Programme

Hello and welcome to the new academic year at CLYCC! We are still meeting in the English Faculty (directions here), though we've switched rooms (now in Room 11). Details of our exciting programme this term below:

October 25 (Week 3): Reading Other People's Minds: Literary Cognitivism and Children's Literature. Prof. Maria Nikolajeva, Professor of Education and Director of the Cambridge/Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children's Literature, University of Cambridge
Literary cognitivism is a relatively recent direction of inquiry that pursues the question of whether works of literature can convey knowledge, and if so, how this happens. Children's literature has throughout history been employed as an educational vehicle, yet its actual mechanism of providing knowledge has not been properly discussed. The epistemic value of children's literature can be considered on different levels, including knowledge of the world, knowledge of society, knowledge of other people, knowledge of self, aesthetic knowledge, ethical knowledge and metaphysical knowledge. Professor Nikolajeva will in this talk focus on the issue of whether fiction can be used as a source of knowledge and understanding of other people's minds, taking as a point of departure some recent studies at the crossroads of literary theory and cognitive science.

November 8 (Week 5): Words of Violence: Savages, Monsters and (Neo)colonial Writing. Alice Nuttall, Oxford Brookes University
Alice will present on her doctoral research at Oxford Brookes, which considers the portrayal of American Indians in children's literature and culture. Her paper examines the establishment of the savage stereotype in colonial children's literature about American Indians, and how that stereotype has continued into children's literature in the postcolonial period.

November 22 (Week 7): Do-It-Yourself Drama: Nineteenth-Century English Boys and Toy Theatre Play. Dr Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, Associate Professor of Education and Women's Studies, Pennsylvania State University
In early nineteenth-century England, toy theatres (known as juvenile drama) were one of the most popular toys with middle-class children, especially boys. Toy theatres are elaborate paper artifacts that enable a child to stage a complete theatrical production in miniature by providing paper sheets of characters, scenes, wings, as well as a model stage and play script. In this talk Dr Reid-Walsh will discuss several boy consumers of the artifacts in terms of their purchasing and play strategies. She will examine first-person retrospective accounts and one child’s toy theatre set reassembled by a young Victorian boy in relation to the emerging consumer culture of the period.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Trinity Term 2010 Programme

We're meeting 5.15pm odd Mondays in the History of the Book Room again this term; directions to the faculty can be found here - and here's what we have to look forward to:

Week 1 (April 26): Play, Edwardian Empire, and Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. Prof. Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, Wolfson College
Professor Boehmer will explore some of the many contradictions inherent in Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys, a highly ideological text that expounds imperial values yet also promotes the creative and non-directed aspects of play and performance. She will question whether empire at its height in fact opened these contradictions, and if that might begin to explain why this period of literary history produced an outpouring of children's literature.

Week 3 (May 10): Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Secret Garden. Prof. Gretchen Gerzina, George Eastman Visiting Professor, Balliol College
Professor Gerzina will discuss the life and works of Frances Hodgson Burnett, especially with regard to her present-day reputation as an author primarily for children. Her most famous works for a child audience (The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy) were greatly overshadowed during her lifetime by the wealth of other material she produced, including 53 novels and thirteen plays written primarily for adults. The highest paid woman author of her time, Burnett's life and work will be re-examined in light of images, biographical materials, and new textual interpretation, reviving and reinterpreting the image of The Secret Garden's author that we have today.

Week 5 (May 24): Mirrors and Windows: Diversity and Children's Publishing. Ms Laura Atkins, Lecturer, National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL), Roehampton University
Ms Atkins will look at recent controversies in the children's publishing world around race and representation, drawing partially from her own experience editing multicultural picture books in the United States. How are non-white characters represented in books published in the US, and how are these representations directed by the editorial and publication process? Recent discussion around this topic on the blogosphere will be shared before the floor is opened up for questions. With the election of a black president some have said the US is now a 'post-racial' society, but Ms Atkins will suggest just the opposite.

Week 7 (June 7): 'The Simple Creed / Of Childhood': Poetic Progeny and the Early Romantics. Amelia Greene, University College
Amelia's research for the M.St. focuses on issues of abandonment, illegitimacy, and independence as they relate to the status of children and ideas of childhood during the early part of the Romantic period. Examining the autonomous, non-social, foraging, 'natural' child found in both Wordsworth and Coleridge, and revisiting the Blakean representation of the dependent, socially and politically contingent, often urban, youth, Amelia will explore the ways in which Romantic poetry serves to simultaneously celebrate the literary ideal of the abstract 'Child' and to repress, neglect, or de-emphasise the troubled social status of British children during the period.

Hope to see many of you there!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Wishing for Tomorrow, by Hilary McKay

105 years on, Hilary McKay has produced a sequel to Francis Hodgson Burnett’s 1904 classic A Little Princess. Rising above its vague, sentimental title, Wishing For Tomorrow fleshes out the female characters that provide the backdrop to Sara Crewe’s story and gently raises serious questions about the class- and gender-based assumptions that are complicit in Sara’s restoration to privilege in the original. The inside cover of Wishing for Tomorrow calls the dire Miss Minchins’ school for girls a place where ‘fairytale endings do happen’, referring certainly to Sara’s rescue from the life of a scullery maid in A Little Princess but also, subversively, to the various ‘rescues’ of women by other women in this new sequel.

Sara’s friend Ermengarde serves as the protagonist of the sequel, and it is through her experiences that the reader discovers the tragedies behind the lives of many of the girls and women in A Little Princess. The icy headmistress Maria Minchin and the bully Lavinia emerge as particularly sympathetic characters, as McKay explores how poverty, neglect, and limited options might have strangled and embittered intelligent women in Edwardian England. Over the course of this generally lighthearted novel McKay re-imagines the plot that Burnett uses for Sara’s release from the Minchins’ and applies it to Lavinia: where the Indian Gentleman recognizes Sara’s inherent nobility and seeks to restore it to her by secretly furnishing her attic room with luxuries in A Little Princess, in Wishing for Tomorrow the new next-door neighbor swiftly grasps Lavinia’s intelligence and hunger for knowledge, and secretly gives her lessons to prepare her for university entrance exams to an Oxford college. McKay implicitly critiques the elitist, patriarchal, and even colonialist terms of Sara’s ‘fairy tale’ through this rewriting, but she does so—as she does with all of her critiques in this sequel—without overtly denouncing or overturning Burnett’s much-beloved novel.

Various female characters from the original receive critical attention in McKay’s sequel, and perhaps the most interesting is Ermengarde’s appraisal of Sara Crewe after seeing a production of Peter Pan. Ermengarde asks herself, “[w]ho was Sara? If she, Ermengarde, was Wendy, forever staring from the window, surely Sara was the heartless person who had left her stranded there?” This likening of Sara to Peter Pan problematizes the idealization of Sara’s character in A Little Princess and raises questions about who it ultimately serves. Meanwhile, it encourages us children’s literature critic types to turn Jacqueline Rose’s famous question about the “impossibility of children’s literature,” the “case of Peter Pan,” onto Burnett’s novel and then in turn onto McKay’s. How and, crucially, why do these texts, written over 100 years apart, model childhood and adulthood in the way that they do? To what ends? McKay’s conclusion is a little bit too neat and convenient for a work that raises so many complex issues, but it agrees with the bright tone that the novel attempts to maintain from the original, while offering a very different view on what magical happy endings for girls and women might look like.

Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess
By Hilary McKay
Illustrated by Nick Maland
Hodder Children’s Books, 2009
ISBN 978-0340956533
Now also out from Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010
ISBN 978-1442401693

Friday, January 29, 2010

Update: Next Seminar

Professor Elleke Boehmer's talk on Scouting for Boys, initially advertised for week 3, will take place in week 4 due to scheduling conflicts. Same time (5.15pm), same place (History of the Book Room in the English Faculty), different date (Monday 8th February). Please see the term card for more information on Professor Boehmer's topic.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hilary Term 2010 Schedule

This term we're meeting on even Mondays at 5.15pm in the History of the Book Room, English Faculty Building. Click here for directions to the faculty.

18 January (Week 1): ‘Exemplified in a Series of Dresses: The Nineteenth-Century Paper Doll Book.’ Hannah Field, Somerville College.
Between around 1809 and 1830 the publishers and print-sellers S. and J. Fuller produced a number of what they billed as ‘esteemed and much admired JUVENILE BOOKS, with Figures which dress and undress’. These paper doll books consisted of a small black-and-white storybook, a number of separate coloured cut-out images of different costumes and a single cardboard head that was inserted into each costume to produce a complete illustration. Referring to examples from the Opie Collection at the Bodleian, DPhil student Hannah Field will discuss the ways these dress-up ‘figures’ generate an inordinate focus on clothing and fashion—as well as on the material properties of these books more broadly—that undermines the accompanying moralistic stories.

1 February (Week 3): ‘Play, Edwardian Empire and Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys.’ Prof. Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, Wolfson College.
Professor Boehmer will explore some of the many contradictions inherent in Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys, a highly ideological text that expounds imperial values yet also promotes the creative and non-directed aspects of play and performance. She will question whether empire at its height in fact opened these contradictions, and if that might begin to explain why this period of literary history produced an outpouring of children's literature.

15 February (Week 5): ‘The Wild and the Cute: Disney Animation, Childhood and the Poetics of Nature.’ David Whitley, University of Cambridge.
Given the wealth of high quality animated productions that have recently focused on environmentally sensitive issues, it is worth asking whether there may be a tradition within popular, mainstream feature animation that such films are able to draw on in selective and distinctive ways. In this talk David Whitley, who teaches literature and film in the Faculty of Education at Cambridge, explores the possibility that such a tradition does indeed exist and that its origins (perhaps rather surprisingly given the benighted status that is often accorded to Disney’s ideological credentials in recent writing) lie in the experiments that Disney undertook with the animated feature form in the classic period of its development.

1 March (Week 7): ‘Youth's Lifeworlds between Official Doctrine and its Challenges: The Local Dimension of the Soviet Young Communist League in the 1950s and 1960s.’ Katharina Uhl, St Antony’s College.
Katharina Uhl, DPhil candidate in the History Faculty and Rhodes Scholar, will focus on the way the Young Communist League, the official Soviet youth organization, positioned itself in the so-called Thaw period in Soviet history: the 1950s and 1960s. Stalin's death in 1953 opened the space for social, cultural and political changes. One of the means to fill the emerging gap between Party-state and society was the revival of the communist project. This was on the other hand challenged by various phenomena, including religion and nationalism, Western influence, and the growing importance of the private sphere. The presentation will examine this space of tension, ambivalence and contradictions with regard to the Young Communist League’s role in the life-worlds of young people.