Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Margaret Kean on 'The Young Inferno'

In our last session for 2011 - how time flies! - Dr Margaret Kean (St Hilda's) presented on a children's lit-related element from her wider project charting cultural responses to Hell: the picture book The Young Inferno, written by John Agard and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Beginning with the premise that much of children's literature depends on either the child saving the adult or the child being saved by the adult (an interesting dynamic where depictions of Hell are concerned), Dr Kean positioned The Young Inferno as a renewal of Dante couched in Agard's own cultural milieu (the damned are updated to include various twentieth-century figures of note, for example) and fully conversant with the picture book's unique techniques for 'making meaning' through word and image. Dr Kean's many pictorial examples showed Kitamura himself visually 'reading' Dante and Dante's illustrators, updating, for example, the bone landscapes Blake used to illustrate the work in the nineteenth century with his own chilling and beautiful piles of skulls and fish skeletons. Kitamura's stark black and white illustrations become a visual pun on Agard's text, which questions the binary between black and white, good and evil (from canto 2: 'neither beast nor man / can be divided into black and white'). Darkness and vivacity, what Dr Kean called the 'double energy' of updated versions of Dante's Inferno for children (she also touched on Dale Basye's Circles of Heck series), generate a rich, multilayered quality in both text and illustration.

Happy holidays, everyone! Next term's programme, as well as a number of special events associated with the new centrally-taught children's literature paper for Oxford finalists, will be posted here early in 2012.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Anna Caughey on Lewis and Tolkien

Beginning with Philip Pullman’s incendiary critique of the Chronicles of Narnia in The Guardian in 1998 (online here), Anna Caughey posed the question why, if the Chronicles and the compositions of C. S. Lewis’s fellow Inkling Tolkien are as disempowering as Pullman and others have suggested—a reading that Anna doesn’t dispute—they experience such enduring popularity with all sorts of readers. Anna’s paper built upon Peter Hollindale’s concept of 'childness' (as a state in which the child continuously negotiates his or her own subject position in dialogue with various messages from the external world) to propose the idea of 'compulsory childhood': a state in which the external world imposes limitations on the child subject, preventing this negotiation from taking place. She demonstrated the ways in which Lewis and Tolkien, in both their critical writing and their fiction, dispute the 'pigeonholing' of the child as either an idolised or denigrated Other of the adult, suggesting that despite suspect gender, race, and class politics, Lewis and Tolkien actively empower the child (and the child’s analogue, the small person) in their stories. Rejecting the idea that children should be contained and protected, both authors depict a masculinity in which there is a level of emotional freedom absent from, say, the boys' school story: one in which moments of vulnerability are permitted to even the strongest of Lewis’s male heroes (Peter crying post-battle isn’t at all a ‘girlish thing’ for him to do). Moreover, Anna suggested that in the character arcs of Merry and Pippin, as well as Peter, both authors represent a liminal space between childhood and adult masculinity: an opportunity for characters to shift back and forward between the respective pleasures and responsibilities of adulthood and childhood, rather than the straightforward opposition between these categories entailed in ‘compulsory childhood’. Of course, female characters are not given such an opportunity to shift between adult and child selves—Susan’s famed fate in The Last Battle being a case in point—and Anna proposed ‘circumlegation’, or reading around, as a possible solution to the problem of why, considering the portrayals of femininity in these books, they continue to draw so many female fans.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Katherine Rundell on Writing (and Publishing) for Children

Katherine Rundell became a Prize Fellow at All Souls around the same time she finished the manuscript for her first children's novel, The Girl Savage, which was subsequently published by Faber. Since then, these two seemingly antithetical occupations have existed in parallel. At CLYCC's first session for 2011/12, Kate took us through her thoughts about writing in general and writing children's books in particular. Kate's hilarious, erudite talk challenged the perception that writing children's literature is akin to painting watercolours of cats (an opinion that she has encountered in her time), as she touched on, for example, reading as one of the few private activities allowed to the child, the children's book as an apotropaic against the tawdrier products of children's culture, and the robustness of children's publishing throughout the recession. Her talk was also a practical exploration of the vicissitudes of children's publishing, literary agents, writing schedules, etc—meaning that her talk offered perspectives on children's books both idealistic and pragmatic.

Read more about The Girl Savage here, and stay tuned for Kate's new book, also published by Faber and provisionally entitled Across the Rooftops.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Michaelmas 2011 Termcard

Welcome back, everyone! Our first paper is only a week away....

All talks in Seminar Room A of the English Faculty Building (directions) at 5.15pm - and all welcome.

Also please add Matthew Grenby's talk 'Wilkes in Lilliput: On the Politics of Eighteenth-Century Children's Books' on Wednesday 9 November to your diaries. The talk will take place at five o'clock in the Memorial Room at Worcester as part of the Graduate Seminar in History 1680-1850.

Exciting times for children's literature at Oxford!

24 October (Week 3): Advances and Submissions: Hope and Compromise in Today’s Publishing Industry. Katherine Rundell, All Souls College
Katherine Rundell is an Examination Fellow of All Souls and is about to send her second children’s book to press. (Her first children’s novel, The Girl Savage, was published by Faber earlier this year.) She will be speaking about the publishing industry, about the writing process, and about why, sometimes, it is necessary to tie yourself to the desk with a skipping rope.

7 November (Week 5): Hard, Bold, and Wicked: Masculinity and Liminality in Lewis and Tolkien. Dr Anna Caughey, College Lecturer in Old and Middle English, Keble College
In Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the boundaries between adult and child identities are at once blurred and reinforced. Childhood, and boyhood in particular, is presented as a state that can be both transcended and retreated to when necessary, while full physical/social adulthood is generally marginalised. Using Peter Hollindale’s theory of ‘childness’ as a base, this paper examines the ways in which both texts use their fantasy settings to provide younger readers with access to material that emphasises the capability and autonomy of child/child-substitute protagonists while privileging the state of childhood.

21 November (Week 7): Hoodies in Hell. Dr Margaret Kean, Helen Gardner Fellow in English, St Hilda’s College
This talk will consider the recent revision of Dante’s Inferno undertaken by the poet John Agard in The Young Inferno (illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura). Agard’s upbeat renewal of Dante can be usefully compared with Dayle E. Basye’s irreverent take on authority in his Circles of Heck series (Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go is the first volume; illustrator Bob Dob). This talk will contrast the approach of contemporary writers towards Dante with that taken by Kingsley in The Water Babies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Josephine Rout on Dress for Female Students in Japan

Josephine discussed recent research she has undertaken as part of the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum’s joint Master’s programme. Josephine focused on the development of dress for female students, or jogakusei, in Japan’s Meiji Period (1868-1912). In this epoch, a concern with modernisation and ‘catching up with the West’ often played out in terms of women’s education, and Josephine used a particular garment, the hakama (a sort of culottes worn over kimono) to illuminate the history of Meiji jogakusei. Associated with state functions, hakama were a garment typically worn by men prior to this period. Josephine suggested that the adoption of hakama by female students reflected an identification with the figure of the student, rather than gender travesty: the only grown-up students prior to this period were male, and as they wore hakama, so did the new breed of jogakusei. Regardless, the short hairstyles and supposed masculinisation of female students were castigated in the media, and there was a more general distaste symbolised in, for example, the magazine serial from 1905 entitled ‘Tales of Degenerate Schoolgirls’. Josephine illustrated her talk with modern-day hakama (the piece remains popular as graduation garb for female students), as well as a wealth of images that included some from children’s books of the period.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diane Purkiss on Children's Literature at Oxford

Dr Diane Purkiss began by assuring the group that there is nothing more traditional to the children's book than being soaked to the skin: highly apposite, of course, as most members of her audience were in that very state on the wet Bank Holiday Monday of this talk!

Diane discussed the new special topic option for third-year Oxford undergraduates, which involves centralised teaching in children's literature: a milestone for a university that has sometimes dismissed the subject out of hand. This dismissal is rather perplexing, of course, as Oxford (more so even than the 'Other Place', in Diane's august opinion) has produced a slew of phenomenal children's books, and also holds one of the best collections of children's literature in the world (the Opie Collection at the Bodleian). The special topic programme legitimates Oxford as a cultural centre of children's literature, while also legitimating students' interest in studying and researching children's literature at Oxford.

To this end Diane ranged over authors including Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, and Matthew Skelton, and topics including the effect of both Oxford's built environment and its pastoral surrounds on children's books written here, or about here. She also spoke to the broader issues involved in the discipline: the relationship between adult author and child reader, and the perhaps less acknowledged relationship between adult and (remembered) child selves for any one individual. Her talk was an exciting taste of the programme, and I'll update you all on its progress as classes get up and running next academic year.

Alice and the Mouse swimming in the Pool of Tears: May weather in Oxford isn't quite that wet, but still....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Alice Nuttall on Pocahontas

Last Monday Alice discussed the depiction of Native Americans in a film for children which touts an overt anti-racist message: Disney's Pocahontas (1995). Despite the direct engagement with issues of race, racism, and cross-cultural interaction in Pocahontas—which Alice reads as in part an apology for previous Disney characters such as Tiger Lily in the 1953 Peter Pan—the film holds some problematic subtexts beneath its worthy surface message of tolerance and anti-colonialism. Elements of the production, such as Pocahontas' signature costume (a skimpy buckskin mini-dress) and the division between 'good Indians' (those who assimilate to European culture) and 'bad Indians' (those who fight it), make free use of prevalent stereotypes of Native American culture. When the important character Grandmother Willow, a spirit guide, encourages Pocahontas to learn English, the film even seems to tacitly suggest divine approval of colonialism. Alice also discussed 'Savages', the controversial song which appeared toward the end of the original version of the film (it was cut upon video release). The song depicts Native and European parties calling each other savages, ostensibly to show that both sides hold erroneous conceptions about race, and can be violent and hate-filled. However, racist slurs incorporated in the song were on occasion used to taunt Native children after the film's release—despite the diegetic emphasis on the wrongheadedness of such language and behaviour.

CLYCC wishes Alice all the best for her upcoming field research.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trinity Term 2011 Programme

An exciting programme for the new term! Events held in Room 11 of the English Fac at 5.15pm as usual (directions if you need them...).
Looking forward to seeing both familiar and unfamiliar faces!

May 16th (Week 3): Problems with Pocahontas. Alice Nuttall, Oxford Brookes University
Alice, a doctoral student at Brookes who works on the portrayal of American Indians in children’s literature and culture, returns to CLYCC with a presentation on Disney’s thirty-third animated feature, the immensely popular Pocahontas (1995). Alice will examine problems with the portrayal of race and gender issues in the film, and ask whether it is successful as an anti-racist work.

May 30th (Week 5): Teaching Children’s Literature for Paper Eight. Dr Diane Purkiss, CUF Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow, Keble College
This Centrally Taught Special Topics (CTST) introductory lecture, held in conjunction with CLYCC, concerns the new stream of children’s literature-oriented Paper Eight seminars and classes which will be run through the English Faculty from next year. Dr Diane Purkiss, who will teach the 2011/12 series along with Professor Elleke Boehmer (Wolfson) and Dr Margaret Kean (St Hilda’s), leads a discussion of her own research interests in children’s books, projects undertaken by former and current students (particularly finalists), and her vision for the programme.

June 13th (Week 7): The Meiji Material Girl: Developing the Image of the Female Student through Literature. Josephine Rout, Royal College of Art
Josephine currently studies Asian design and material culture at RCA and will shortly act as curatorial assistant for a display at the Victoria and Albert Museum examining the influence of British design and culture on Japanese street fashion. In this session she will focus on her recent research into the development of Japanese school uniforms. In particular, Josephine is interested in the appearance of these garments before the adoption of now-ubiquitous items inspired by nineteenth-century British children’s dress, such as the sailor suit. She will also consider the depiction of the schoolgirl in Japanese literature, including some children's books.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Clive Hurst on Children's Books in the Bod

On February 28th Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books and Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library, presented a personal selection of early children's books from collections at the Bod. Clive matched each image of a Bodleian treasure with a witty excursus on its significance: the squirm-inducing descriptions of the 'brands of Hell' in Janeway's Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children, for example, were popular enough to warrant a 'further account', while even the subscription lists for the Gigantick Histories contained jokes (apparently the Vatican Library was a faithful subscriber). Tracing representations of learning and play in illustration and word throughout his talk, one of Clive's most fascinating examples confirmed the connections between Oxford and the children's book. The earliest known printed horn-book (circa 1620) was found in the foundations of Brasenose in 1882 during excavation works there. Of course, this volume did not have far to move once it resurfaced: it was deposited just across Radcliffe Square in the Bodleian, where it remains to this day.

At left, an illustration from Punctuation Personified, or, Pointing Made Easy, published by J. Harris. The Bodleian holds an 1824 copy from which Clive showed us images.

A facsimile version is available from the Bodleian bookshop.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shira Wolosky on Harry Potter

This from Alice Nuttall on the CLYCC talk which took place on February 14th:

In our second talk of the term, Professor Shira Wolosky discussed the ethical principles and paradigms in the Harry Potter series which are the subject of her recent book The Riddles of Harry Potter: Secret Passages and Interpretive Quests. Beginning by noting the series’ use of political allegory, such as its references to the Second World War and modern conflicts, Shira then went on to explore how the series’ central focus is the dichotomy of love (represented by Harry and his allies) and power (represented by Voldemort). Shira noted that the characters in Harry Potter either seek power, which makes them dominant but leaves them isolated, or love, which brings strength in the form of friends and family. She read the prophecy ‘Neither can live while the other survives’ as suggesting that no-one can pursue both love and power, and that characters who try, such as Snape, must ultimately commit to one or the other. Shira also spoke of the series’ secondary ethical paradigms: that people should be treated as an end, not a means, and that one’s moral choices are more important than one’s abilities. Judging by the questions and discussion following the talk, Shira’s presentation inspired many readers to go back to the series on interpretative quests of their own.

For more information on Shira's book, published last year by Palgrave Macmillan, visit Our thanks to Shira for presenting this term while at Oxford as the Rothermere Institute's Drue Heinz Visiting Professor.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sarah Iversen on Children's Dictionaries

This term I'm going to post a little summary of each presentation for those who were unable to attend on the day. Here goes...

In our first talk Sarah Iversen from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, presented on one aspect of her research into children’s dictionaries. Looking at a number of historical examples including Anna Murphy’s A First or Mother’s Dictionary for Children (c.1813) and Wilby’s Infant School Spelling-Book (1844), as well as Maria Edgeworth’s glossary appendix in Early Lessons (1801), Sarah demonstrated that children’s dictionaries of the period teach not just words, but also broader moral attitudes. Many of these relate to gender, with boys and girls constructed in different ways: playing with different toys, exhibiting different virtues (or vices), and destined for different social roles. Indeed, as Sarah explained, even when word definitions were gender-neutral, the accompanying pictures frequently gendered, say, pat as a masculine verb (and activity), pet as a feminine one. Sarah also gave a fascinating account of contrasting definitions of particular words across individual lexicographers and across dictionaries for children as opposed to adults. Thanks, Sarah, and best of luck for your upcoming viva!

At right, an example from Sarah's presentation: an illustration for the word strut from Wilby's Infant School Spelling-Book, and Pictorial Dictionary (1844).

Image copyright British Library Board, shelfmark RB.23.a.1641.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hilary 2011 Times

So sorry for omitting times in my earlier post!

We are meeting at 5.15pm for each session this term.

Hope to see many of you there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hilary Term 2011 Programme

Happy New Year, and welcome to a fresh batch of CLYCC offerings! Still meeting in Room 11 of the St Cross Building on Manor Road, and all are still welcome.

Week 3 (January 31st): ‘“To Teach Little Boys and Girls What It Is Proper for Them to Know”: Gendered Education and the Children’s Dictionary’. Sarah Iversen, Lady Margaret Hall

Sarah Iversen, a DPhil candidate at LMH, will explore the role of nineteenth-century children’s dictionaries in the gendered education of children. Children’s dictionaries are widely regarded strictly as mid-twentieth-century phenomena. Pre-twentieth-century lexicography has also been traditionally regarded as an exclusively male pursuit. Contrary to these assumptions there were, in fact, many dictionaries specifically written for children in the nineteenth century, several of which were compiled by women. This paper will demonstrate that both dictionaries compiled by women and men aimed, not simply to impart the meaning of words, but also to teach ‘little boys and girls’ how to behave and prepare them for their future roles as men and women. These gender ideologies, encoded in dictionary definitions, example sentences, and pictorial illustrations, often varied according to the background of individual lexicographers, as Iversen will show.

Week 5 (February 14th): ‘The Riddles of Harry Potter: Secret Passages and Interpretive Quests’. Professor Shira Wolosky, Drue Heinz Visiting Professor at the Rothermere Institute and Professor of English and American Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Professor Wolosky will discuss her recent book on the Harry Potter series, published by Palgrave Macmillan, in which she argues that Harry Potter’s wild popularity ultimately relates to its literary depth and power: its symbolic meanings, psychological experience, moral reflection, word revelation. Harry Potter offers a literary world of psychological and political allegories, moral fables and paradigms, wordplay, and sudden plots. These together form a web of riddles and secrets—hidden and then discovered meanings—where objects, creatures, events, and words themselves are all filled with significances that have to be deciphered, and whose meanings unfold through constant interpretation and reinterpretation, as earlier books take on new senses in light of later ones. Harry Potter as literary experience thus emerges as one of interpretive challenge and adventure through unfolding patterns of psychological, historical, and moral meanings.

Week 7 (February 28th): ‘Children’s Books in the Bodleian Library’. Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books, Bodleian Library

In the late 1980s, following a massive fundraising appeal, the Bodleian Library acquired Peter and Iona Opie’s personal collection of around 20,000 children’s books (including many early books, as well as archival materials like Peter Opie’s accession diaries, which document the genesis of the collection). The preservation of the Opie Collection in the Bodleian, along with other significant children’s book holdings in the Douce Collection among others, makes Oxford the home of some of the world’s most significant resources for the study of children’s books and culture. The head of the Bodleian’s Rare Books division, Clive Hurst, who has written on the Opie Collection and curated exhibitions of children’s books from the Bodleian, will discuss the important children’s book resources at the Library and introduce the group to some of the most extraordinary examples across collections.