Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Green Man/Wild Man in Children's Literature and Culture

Trinity College Dublin will host a conference on the Green Man/Wild Man in children's literature and culture in July this year. For more information visit the conference blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Melissa Dickson on the Arabian Nights

In a discursive and thought-provoking session, Melissa Dickson took us through some aspects of her doctoral research at King's College London, which focuses on nineteenth-century receptions of the Arabian Nights. This collection, diverse both in terms of sources (many of the tales came from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Egypt and Syria, by way of an eighteenth-century French collector of folklore, and supplemented in many editions with other, unrelated tales) and genres (Melissa listed fables, fairy tales, romances, crime stories, animal transformations as only a few of the types represented), constituted a formative reading experience for such nineteenth-century luminaries as Dickens, Thackeray, the Bront√ęs, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Melissa suggested that, with history and memory increasingly contested forms of 'time' in the period, the Arabian Nights represents attempts to snatch fragments from the past, to make the past accessible through the retelling of ancient tales. This process also occurred within personal histories, as the famous authors who read the Nights as children recounted their readings as a way of recapturing what was lost in the progression from childhood to adulthood. Moreover, the non-linear quality of the Nights apes the non-linear quality associated with child consciousness in the nineteenth century, as the form of the Arabian Nights becomes metonymically associated with its readers.

We wish Melissa the best of luck with this fascinating project!

At top, the poster for an 1888 burlesque of the Arabian Nights: Melissa concluded by discussing the huge range of such theatrical spectacles as another way of exploring the relation of the Nights to issues of narrative and memory.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

James Williams on Edward Lear

James’ paper, the first in a number of bicentenary celebrations of Lear which will occur at Oxford this year, examined Lear’s nonsense verse in the context of children’s language acquisition. Observing that Lear, like Carroll, is a great nonsense writer whose work springs from direct contact with children, James read Lear’s limericks as a form of what Wittgenstein referred to as ‘those games by means of which children learn their native language.’ James ranged over a number of writers on such language-games, from Henri Wallon to the Opies to Roman Jakobson, to explain aspects of the limerick as they relate to children: the limerick’s delight in coincidences of sound, for instance, mimicking children’s own pleasure and delight in sound patterning. James finished with an example of Lear’s direct address to children which is worth quoting at length. ‘You will excuse my familiar mode of addressing you,’ wrote Lear to Ruth Decie in September 1862, ‘because, you know,—you have as yet got no Christian name—;—& to say—“my dear Miss Decie” would be as much too formal, as “my dear Decie” would be too rude. But as your Grandmama has written to me that you are just born I will write to congratulate you, & possibly this is one of the first letters you have yet received.’ Lear’s letter eloquently answers, without condescension or staginess, the question of how adults should speak to children—and provided a charming conclusion to James’ paper.

James is organising a conference on Lear at Jesus College on the 21st and 22nd of September this year, with confirmed speakers including Gillian Beer, Hugh Haughton, and the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. For more information, and to pre-register your place, please visit the conference website.

At left, the 'intrinsic Old Man of Peru'—James also pleasurably riffed on Lear's use of 'intrinsic' in this verse.