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Lit Kids: Modern andContemporary Representations of Childhood

ENGL 053.920
crosslisted as: COML 040
MW 5:30-9:20

The late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries marked a transformation of the figure of the child in literature. Not only was this the period that produced such well-known child characters as Peter Pan, Alice, and Mowgli, it also was also a moment host to a larger cultural and economic shift in literary markets. For the first time, books were written to entertain and delight children rather than instruct and discipline them. And in literature written for readers of all ages, revolutions occurred in the way children were represented as characters. Children were imagined to be complex agents of adventure, intellect, and struggle in spite of their limited experiences, means, rights and freedoms. With this incongruity in mind, we will ask: is the child an escapist figure of innocence and possibility, a flight from violent conflict and social contradiction, the maker of a fantasy world for adults to repair to? Or do transformational social conditions render childish forms anything but an escape, instead giving us newly attentive practices of representing subjects, selves, heroism, worlds, sexuality, race, politics, emotion and more? Does a child’s eye view—with its fresh insights and imaginative breadth—illuminate or distort the world it represents? And how do the conventions, pleasures, and preoccupations of early children’s literature continue as well as mutate through the 1900s and 2000s? This class will consider these questions with texts written for children and adults both beginning in the late-nineteenth-century ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature and continuing to the present day—from Through the Looking Glass to Lord of the Flies to Harry Potter.