“That Disturbing Element”: Angel-Mother As Mermaid in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

In this blogpost, Rosaleen Nolan shines a light into the darker corners of one of the most beloved nurseries in children’s literature…

 

“Wendy has not yet appeared, but she has been trying to come ever since that loyal nurse cast the humorous shadow of woman upon the scene and made us feel that it might be fun to let in a disturbing element” (Barrie Boy Castaways 84).

Despite a long and diverse career,[i] overwhelmingly the legacy of J.M. Barrie is inextricable from Peter Pan (1904). Primarily renowned for being the ‘troubled’ creator of this whimsical children’s drama, Barrie’s personal relationships even cast a shadow over his work. Yet possibly the only aspect of Peter Pan neglected by academic study is its presentation of ‘reality’. In the spaces of home enclosing this play, I will argue that Barrie exploits a cultural discourse prevalent throughout the long nineteenth-century, which positions the domestic world as an innately feminine space.

This gendered dichotomisation of the public (masculine) and private (feminine) spheres conveniently fits a late-Victorian/early-Edwardian narrative casting Barrie’s female characters as tragic, self-sacrificial heroines. Mrs Darling, Wendy and their daughters are seen to undergo a process of maturation that imposes a limit upon their worlds; their maternal and domestic instincts confine their ageing bodies to the nursery as, by way of contrast, Peter soars back to Neverland year after year. Yet, Roth surmises that; “despite the arguments put forth in almost every critical review and reading of the play . . . Peter Pan, [Barrie’s] most popular play and a hallmark of Edwardian boy-worship, begins and ends as the story of a little girl” (48; 52). Here, I argue that the Darling home is a space which simultaneously enshrines and deconstructs archetypes of femininity. A destabilising sub-narrative is threaded through the stage directions and non-verbal action of Barrie’s 1928 composite play-text; this alternative story offers a new perspective upon the conflicts, dangers and rebellions at work in that most sacred of domestic havens: the children’s nursery.

Flyleaf of *Peter Pan* edition, Museum of Childhood

A mid-c20th personalised copy of Barrie’s *Peter Pan* from the Museum archives


          
They sat thus night after night recalling that fatal Friday, till every detail of it was stamped on their brains and came through on the other side like the faces on a bad coinage . . . They would sit there in the empty nursery, recalling fondly every smallest detail of that dreadful evening (Barrie Peter and Wendy 15).

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Theorising Scottish Children’s and Young Adult Fiction

In this post, Fiona McCulloch argues for the timeliness of critical engagement with children’s and young adult literature  –   and how it can help chart journeys into new ways of thinking…

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You’re reading too much into it’… ‘it’s just a children’s story’ … ‘don’t ruin it for me’… These are just some of the defensive attitudes interjected against critically engaging with literature for the young. Undoubtedly children’s books do ignite a nostalgic element not unlike a comfort blanket to buffer us against the world’s storms, and we remember cosying up with a good book as part of our childhood memory. To invade that sacrosanct space, then, becomes a kind of trespass against a shared cultural nostalgia whose gatekeepers baulk at such sheer insolence.

Jacqueline Rose (1984) argues that this defence of children’s literature is intertwined with discourses of childhood innocence perpetuated since Romanticism, where ‘If the child can still be in touch with that purity, then writing for children is the closest that we, as adults, can get to it’ (p.49). But adulthood’s shared wistful memory is as dependent upon narrative retelling, fictionalising and re-framing as any children’s book. Besides trailblazers like Rose and John Stephens, when I embarked upon my PhD, children’s literature as a serious academic pursuit was virtually unheard of except perhaps in the United States or in Education Departments but certainly not in serious English Departments. My peers’ responses ranged from bemusement to condescension, bolstered in their pursuit of altogether more cerebrally and canonically demanding choices deemed much less “feminised”. Continue reading

Dealing with Dragons, or learning to become one?

In today’s blogpost, Michelle Anjirbag shares a personal reflection about childhood ‘reading memories’   –  the particular stories which have had a formative and longlasting influence, shaping who she was then and now….

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My PhD might be on Disney and fairy tale adaptations now, but the princess I looked up to when I was younger (and still, now) was never found on the shelves of one of their stores, or in their animated films. I was about seven years old when I found the blue and grey and black hardcover books in my elementary school library: Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Inside their pages I met my earliest role models that didn’t walk out of folklore or history books: Princess Cimorene and King Kazul. Most of all I learned the one set of skills that has remained important throughout my life: how to deal with dragons. But more on that later.

The series is comprised of four books: Dealing with Dragons (1990), Searching for Dragons (1991), Calling on Dragons (1993), and Talking to Dragons (1985). Though it is now the last book in the series, Talking to Dragons was originally written as a standalone, and was followed up by the short story “The Improper Princess” in the Jane Yolen edited Spaceships and Spells collection – which then became the first 27 or so pages of Dealing with Dragons.

Cimorene was a princess who fenced, and who didn’t want to do what princesses were somehow meant to do, like learn the appropriate volume to scream when kidnapped by giants. She ran away to avoid an arranged marriage, sure, but at the same time, she found herself through being practical and useful, and using her mind no matter what people thought she ought to do. But, because I started with what is now thought of as the last book, I met Cimorene as a grown woman first. She was, in Wrede’s own words “strong, smart, self-assured, practical, curious, and willing to take on and solve all sorts of problems” (Wrede, iii).

Something about that resonated with me – it could have been the influence of a solidly New England upbringing where we’re taught to just get on with what’s needed, or a bit of the home my mom built, where pursuit of knowledge and skills were celebrated and there was no breakdown of gendered tasks. Likewise, the idea of a dragon kingdom where “King” was merely a job title and had nothing to do with gender, and where the king was practical and not just aloof and wise, or somehow evil or misunderstood, appealed to me. Either way, as a child with no concept of what a twisted fairy tale was, I really enjoyed the way Wrede played with tropes about princess, dragons, and the rules of fairy tales. It was fun to be able to pick through things and recognize them, especially as I read more vastly and returned to the books at different stages of my life.

Beyond Cimorene, though, I loved Kazul. She was the king; she ruled. She became the king of the dragons not because it was handed to her, but because, despite adverse situations, she proved herself. She was incredibly intelligent, she knew a bit of everything and had a library and treasure room too big to bother cataloguing herself. She recognized the value of others, the potential of someone who didn’t quite fit in. She knew her own mind and wasn’t apologetic about it; in short, she, too, reminded me of the kind of women who were in my life – as older generations of teachers, and community service coordinators, swimming instructors, and Girl Scout troop leaders – and who I could see pieces of my future self in. Women who got on with the business of living and leading and didn’t pay any mind to what they should or shouldn’t be able to do. They were doting grandmothers, stern taskmasters when necessary, and could do everything from bake and garden to manage carpentry and roofing and plumbing issues themselves if needed. They were resilient, they thrived both in the cold grey winters and the baking, basking summers of New England. And yes, in many ways, they dealt with dragons – if they weren’t the dragons themselves. I was lucky to find them both on and outside the pages; these women left their mark on a young girl, and I became stronger for it, and had that strength affirmed in both my internal and external life.

Michelle reading

Michelle as a reader then, with her younger sister Ashley

Michelle Reading Dealing with Dragons

… and now

Looking back on this series now, I’m happy to be able to still enjoy them, if not in the exact same way. Of course, now I know all of the references and all the tropes being played with. I have the knowledge to problematise the ways in which gender dynamics are not completely disrupted across the narrative, but also the knowledge to understand the nuanced space within which this kind of narrative still operates. I know at what point I’d like to see more of the narrative expanded in different ways, or interrogated. I know that we’ve both moved on from and need more of these sorts of stories.

But despite what I know, or think I might know, there still remains the wonder of discovery, the joy of growing up – and continuing to grow up – with books. The covers might have changed, and I might read deeper, but the only thing that has truly changed, is me. But nevertheless, I still see the threads of the woman I hoped I’d one day grow into in these books: self-assured, intelligent, eager to learn, capable, passionate, and fearless, and ready to push back against the wrongs and injustices of the world in a way that is fair and just. And thankfully, I continued to grow up with books – and with people – that never told me that this would be impossible.

Which leads us back to the beginning: learning how to deal with dragons. My positionality in any of the fields that I’ve worked in – be it academia, specialty running, outdoor education, or hyperlocal journalism – means that I hear “no” a lot. I hear “you can’t”, “you’re not supposed to”, and “someone like you shouldn’t” or “someone like you can’t”, or perhaps the most telling: “someone like you should be more careful” about what I think or feel and how and how loudly I say it. I hear about the ceilings I will hit, and how much harder I will have to work – and I see it in the lives and the careers of the women who have gone before me. But importantly, I see women who meet the noes, the cannots, and the nevers, and pressed on. They answer them with “so whats?”, and “I wills”.

Because they do these things – and because writers like Patricia C. Wrede and her generation of female fantasists dared to imagine women who were indomitable, who ruled as kings, who were themselves the wise dragons and witchy women filled with strength and curiosity – I can sit at the University of Cambridge as an ethnic-religious minority woman, eldest child of an immigrant single mother, on the opposite side of the ocean from home. And sitting here, I can not only imagine the ways in which we can be better, but I know I have the will and the strength to be part of the process of getting there.

Patricia C. Wrede, Dealing with Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Book One (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 1990).

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Michelle Anya Anjirbag is a PhD student at the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Having earned her MSc at the University of Edinburgh and her BA at the University of Connecticut, her research interests include adaptations of fairy tales and cross-period approaches to narrative transmission across cultures and societies, and her current research is on depictions of diversity in Disney’s fairy tale adaptations from 1989 through the present.

A Thinking Space

In this blogpost, Niamh Keenan presents a personal perspective on what the Museum of Childhood exhibition, Growing Up With Books, means  —   and how it can be a space for our personal reflection on the books that made us, and a way of connecting us with others.

 

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you should be aware that the SELCIE exhibition had its launch on 31st of May. As one of the team, I was allowed to bring a plus one to the evening and I brought a person who was the one really to introduce me to the world of reading. My choice of guest was my mother. How could I not bring the woman who got rid of the television at home and instead insisted on books, with stories on tape being the order of the day during supper time? Being my parent, she was always going to insist how special the exhibition was but it was apparent to me that she was actually intrigued by the nature of the books on display inside the cabinets and how they had been curated. We had a long discussion about that.

While my mother grew up in 1950s Co. Antrim, and I am an Anglo Irish baby from the 1990s, we shared many books that defined us. One such example is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, found in the Other Worlds case; it is extremely close to both of our hearts and yet we appreciate different facets of it. Her funny bone is tickled with the jokes regarding logic and the mathematics that underpin it and I am brought to laughter by the nonsense verses.

This is what makes SELCIE so powerful, namely that it brings into focus how books create a sense of commonality, despite the threads of difference that, inevitably, run amongst us. At the launch, and now as the exhibition runs, visitors mill around and, rather than contain themselves as individual members of the public, anonymous to each other, men and women, families with young children, older couples, exchange reminisces about how this book meant something significant during his or her formative years or about that that volume is akin to one that provoked a visceral reaction when a child.

 

The quotation attributed to Edmund Wilson that ‘no two persons ever read the same book’ has a lot of truth to it and yet, in some ways, it is a rather superficial comment. It says nothing about how it is through these points of dissimilarity that texts impart to readers the attribute of common understanding.

There may be truth to the statement that we are more divided than ever and yet there is no need for fear in a world where people are open to literature. Books have the ability to bring people together to discuss differences in a completely non-hostile way, exploring who we are and why we are that way inclined. The SELCIE exhibition itself, just as with the volumes in it, provides a chance to look backwards, take stock and project forwards ideas and opinions. One can come to an understanding of another through his or her reading and interpretation and, from there, have discussions on the bases of the findings. Akin to a university tutorial, where various students express what a particular text means to them, the SELCIE exhibition creates a special space, where each person can explore what the text or the components of a case awaken in him or her.

I speak as someone who is fully aware of her bias when I recommend that you, dear reader of the SELCIE blog, visit our exhibition in the Museum of Childhood. Once there, perceive yourself through the texts and then engage with the inner world of another visitor.

                                                                    This post written by Niamh

 

For events inspired by the Growing Up With Books exhibition at the Museum of Childhood this summer, please see here for more details! The SELCIE team will also be at the Museum in July and would love to hear your own reflections, reminiscences, and reflections about your childhood reading! More information coming soon! 

 

 

Science, Nature, and Children’s Books: finding Jane Marcet in the archive

Our hours spent happily in the Museum of Childhood’s archive revealed the richness of its collection of nature and science books written for young people, and confirmed the magnitude and diversity of women’s writing for children. Both elements will be on show in the Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Growing Up With Books, which opens on June 1st!

A detail from the cover of one of the loveliest nature books in the collection!

But they are strikingly combined in a very particular mode of writing —  one which combines a flourishing culture of science writing for children and young people in the c19th century with the creative and intellectual interests of women in scientific developments. Beatrix Potter is not alone in being a children’s writer with a keen fascination for natural science.

This was crystallised one day when we picked up a book called The Seasons written by a woman called Jane Marcet, first published in 1832.  Though its familiar-sounding title might echo Romantic literature, this is in fact a collection of stories intended  for ‘very young children’ . These present a world in which nature unfolds through the year’s natural cycle in active and participatory ways for the volume’s fictional child protagonists who are a boy called Willy and his sister Ann.  Encouraged by his mother — ‘You must open up your eyes, Willy, and observe as well as you can’ —  the child peers inside a bud picked from a horse-chestnut tree.

A portrait of Jane Marcet

In another chapter, a little mouse intrudes through a hole in a corner of the nursery to enchant Willy at first, then to provoke him to ‘tantrums’ when the terrified housemaid suggests feline intervention! A fairly happy compromise for all is reached by the end  –  but along the way the story suggests that children’s sympathy for, and kindness towards, animals should be combined with respect for their natural instincts and habitats. It implies a rhythm and harmony existing both within nature and the domestic order which even the nicest of little mice shouldn’t disturb.

Such miniature nature narratives are sprinkled with a dose of moral conservatism. But they also try to teach their young readers to engage in close and empirical observation of the creatures, plants, and living things which encompass their world. The children’s curiosity leads them to discover everyday lessons about physiology, botany, the weather, and even the redness of robin feathers…

Illustrative detail from *The Child’s Zoological Garden*

Jane Marcet (1769-1858) passionately believed that science should be made accessible. With her husband, a medical graduate of Edinburgh University, she belonged to a scientific and intellectual community which had diverse creative and educational interests. She knew Maria Edgeworth, novelist, educationalist, and children’s writer (the Museum archive holds a number of her books), and the extraordinary Mary Sommerville —  the scientist, mathematician, and astronomer who came from the Borders and spent her girlhood in in Fife and Edinburgh.

As her extensive publications attest (such as the Conversations on Chemistry which took place between a teacher and her two female students), Marcet believed in the democratisation of knowledge. Her books reached a variety of readerly communities who usually suffered from various forms of social and cultural exclusion —  children and young people; women; members of mechanics’ institutes. And they were famously read by a youthful Michael Faraday when he worked as an apprentice bookbinder.

Marcet seemingly turned to writing for children and young people later in life. Ever mindful of the potential dullness of any subject, she enriched a grammar book by references to fairy tales and sponge cakes! For her younger readers, her enduring aim was to make science ‘familiar’. This intimacy can be seen in The Seasons where the child-worlds of garden and home become a playground for scientific revelation, and the mother is portrayed as a figure of learning as well as nurture.

In one way, this might be construed as a way of ‘talking down’ to children yet in another as simultaneously respecting and expanding a child’s worldview. Whilst obviously very different in form and style, one can see a connection between her work and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales which so vividly convey a sense of wonder and life in natural things. [As demonstrated above in SELCIE’s banner image, taken from the botanically-themed front cover of an Andersen edition!]

And it also brings to mind the beautiful nature illustrations of Jemima Wedderburn (1823-1909), the Edinburgh-born artist, ornithologist, children’s illustrator, and constructor of scientific toys.

Jemima Wedderburn – painstaking artist of the natural world, and cousin of the Edinburgh physicist, James Clerk Maxwell

In such ways, then, a single book chanced upon by the SELCIE team in the Museum archive opens up a world of interconnecting skeins between scientific creativity, children’s books, and the women who were so frequently their makers and illustrators.

                                                                                    This post written by Sarah

Further reading

Debbie Bark, ‘Science for Children’, in The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth Century British Literature and Science, edited by John Holmes and Sharon Ruston (2017)

Elizabeth J. Morse, ‘Jane Haldimand Marcet’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Kathryn A. Neeley, Mary Somerville: Science, Illumination, and the Female Mind (2001)

‘Jane Marcet’, Science History Institute, https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/jane-marcet

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century, edited by Marilyn Ogilvie, Joy Harvey and Margaret Rossiter (2000)

The Art of Labeling

As preparation for Growing Up With Books, opening at The Museum of Childhood on June 1st, busily continues, Niamh presents a personal reflection on the art of writing about the collection’s treasures.

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This week finds the SELCIE team typing up museum-appropriate labels for our respective cabinets at the exhibition. This activity has presented me with an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill, that of writing for an audience made up of the general public. So very often I find that I have to check myself as my writing veers towards verbosity with its colour verging on purple. This self-censoring grounds my prose and prevents it from flying off into swirls of academic affectation. The most important aspect for me is that the tone is appropriate for the readership. This exhibition is all about children’s literature and therefore it aims to cover the gamut of ages, with texts suitable for little ones as well as for more adult readers. That being so, writing in a register more appropriate for a monograph would exclude a great number of the visitors. A child wants to know what he or she is seeing but does not need to be drowned in information. As such, a happy medium has to be struck.

Along with Sarah Dunnigan, I am in charge of the Other World cabinets. One of my research interests is fairy tales and another is national identity in the arts and therefore I can very easily find myself going to town with details that would interest only a very specific group. This occasion was no exception but, thankfully, I managed to notice where I was going and rein myself in before getting too far down the rabbit hole. No one likes extreme didacticism! Lyn Stevens has been so very helpful with providing museum guidelines, as well as numerous hints and tips on what to do. The most useful trick Lyn furnished me with is to think of the case as a story and the label as the narration of that tale. I absolutely adore creative writing but this activity is no mean feat. I have been trying to find a story to tell. It took me a while to narrow down the many ideas that I had bouncing around in my head. I decided that I wanted the viewer to expand their appreciation of what was already present in their literary knowledge, whether it be about authors already famous in Scotland or about the style of illustrations, already recognisable. Consequently, I have chosen to talk about … well … you, dear reader, shall have to come to our displays and find out. With that enigmatic ending, I am going to finish this blogpost. I do so hope that you visit our exhibition, which is opening very soon now.

                                                                      Archive bookshelf

                                                                                     This post written by Niamh

 

Chapbooks Considered

Amongst the many treasures that SELCIE have unearthed, there are a number of chapbooks. These pieces are often small in size and volume, usually up to 6×4 inches, having only a small number of pages. However, one must be careful not to be fooled by their superficial appearance. They are highly important owing to their multi-faceted great socio-political significance.

Their measurements and number of pages go some way to illustrating this important facet. The controlled costs of creating and printing these works guaranteed that the sale price of these texts were such that the average man, woman or child on the street could afford to purchase them. Put another way, the readership of these writings was expanded from the restricted reach of only the very wealthy; previously, books had been very much confined to the domain of the rich. Paper was an expensive commodity because of the competition for timber, a product for which there was great demand for ships, building, furniture and fires. Wooden furniture, such as writing desks, together with various wooden artefacts often featured in portraits of the wealthy. However, possession of the written word by the general public ensured that democratisation was well on its way to becoming a reality.

Chapbooks often contained abridgements of classic works. These edited versions were simply segments of what was available to the wealthy in its entirety. Nevertheless, it is the action of reading that is the important aspect to note here: namely, reading was no longer the preserve of the upper echelons of society and access to culture was likewise available to all. Equality of opportunity appeared on the horizon. The degree to which there is a direct cause and effect between increasing levels of literacy and increasing availability of chapbooks is contentious. Alexander Pope wrote that ‘[a] little learning is a dangerous thing’ (215) and that sentiment holds true for readers also. With a general public that was literate, the ruling classes had newly to contend with a group of people that were less likely to accept the status quo.

Among the vast array of material printed as chapbooks, nursery rhymes featured prominently. In our exhibition later this year at the Museum of Childhood, ‘Mother Goose’ will be presented as one such example of the genre. While such a text does not seem at first glance to have the capacity to set the world ablaze with revolutionary change, it is clear that nursery rhymes are socio-political by their very nature. They can and often do impart a moralising gloss. In point of fact, the reader of works such as ‘Mother Goose’ is one who has learnt to assess other thoughts and opinions and thus to re-examine one’s own ideas and attitudes.

Aristotle said that ‘man is by nature a political animal’ (10) and a chapbook upon which a common nursery rhyme is printed testifies to the validity of this idea.

mother goose chapbook

References

Aristotle. Poetics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995). Print.

Pope, Alexander. ‘An Essay on Criticism,’ in ‘Essay on Man’ and other Poems (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008). Print.

This post was written by Niamh

Katie Morag goes to Edinburgh University

The little red-haired girl who lives on the Hebridean island of Struay, always attired in her welly boots and Fair Isle jersey, is an icon of contemporary Scottish children’s literature. This, of course, is Katie Morag, the much loved creation of Mairi Hedderwick.

SELCIE was therefore delighted at the news that Edinburgh University had awarded the writer and illustrator an Honorary Degree at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Edinburgh on Monday 27th November. Every one of Hedderwick’s stories opens up a vivid world world for its young reader; in Katie’s companionship, the distinctive culture and heritage of Scottish island life is also brought to life. And Hedderwick’s illustrations also capture a child’s perspective of landscapes, weather, and environment. This striking combination of the visual and verbal was adapted for television in 2013, and a new generation of children discovered Katie Morag in a new medium.

Interestingly, though, the stories didn’t come directly from Hedderwick’s own childhood. The nearest she came to island life was the view through the window of her Gourock home across the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula: ‘I knew I wanted to go there, across the water and over the hills and far away’, she has remarked. As a student she studied mural painting and ceramics at the Edinburgh Art School (now ECA), graduating in the early 60s. It was an experience that would give her ‘sudden freedom […] It was totally classless […] You had room to develop your personality’.

During this time, she first visited Coll, the small Hebridean island lying to the west of Mull and the real-life inspiration for Katie’s island. Working as a ‘mother’s help’ to the laird’s family, she lived without electricity or drinking water but it was still ‘joyous’, she recalls. She subsequently returned and stayed for ten years where she raised a young family and began her career as an illustrator of children’s books by writers such as Rumer Godden and Jane Duncan, and of collections of Gaelic stories and Scottish folktales. Though the family left Coll in the early 70s, its inspiration was deeply seeded, and the first of the Katie Morag series appeared in 1984.[i]

It forms one strand of a rich body of work which encompasses other stories for children (as well as her travel writing which often draws on this rich seam of island experience). Thanks to Hedderwick’s captivating blend of word and image, the material presence of Katie Morag’s world is everywhere — not just in bookshops and television but in cups and calendars. The books belong to the classroom too, and Hedderwick herself is a regular and popular visitor (along with Katie’s teddy bear!) to primary schools and local book festivals; as she herself has said, ‘storytelling [is] a shared activity’.

These stories have become an intimate, homely presence in children’s lives — a vital contribution to a longstanding tradition of Scottish children’s writing, all the way back to Robert Louis Stevenson and A Child’s Garden of Verses, which so memorably captures a child’s view of the world. And, happily, that tradition is still flourishing across the  diversity of contemporary Scottish children’s literature, and the small, independent publishing houses which so often nourish and sustain it.

                                                               This post written by Sarah

[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-26483303

Picture This

Picture This 

What’s the relationship between text and image in illustrated children’s books? In this blog, Niamh reflects on this question, thrown up by having to choose between a multitude of beautiful different editions of the same text for our ‘Growing Up With Books’ exhibition.

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As you know, the SELCIE group has been deciding which books will end up in the exhibition and the catalogue next year. I have no need to tell you how hard it is to making such choices. However, during this time, I have come across a difficulty that I had not really thought about until now: how to evaluate volumes that contain the same text but have differing illustrations.

Dr Sarah Dunnigan and I are putting together the “other world” cabinet, a box that will showcase magic, fairies and various other enchantments; we decided that, for this, the Scottish author J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan would grace us with its esteemed presence. However, in our numerous boxes, there are countless versions of the text. This got me wondering how far does illustration work in conjunction with the text of a book.

Some writers are particularly demanding in what they want the pictures in their books to demonstrate, as was the case of author Lewis Carroll and cartoonist-cum-illustrator John Tenniel: ‘The charts [Carroll] drew up for the sequence of llustrations [sic] include not only meticulous numberings, endlessly scratched out, redrafted and revised. … He wrote copiously to Tenniel to monitor his progress and control his interpretations’ (Warner). So many questions spring from these actions. To list a few: (i) How far do illustrations work independently of the text? (ii) What happens after the work no longer must be printed with these illustrations? (iii) How much power does the illustrator have over the narrative of the story? (iv) If the author has demanded a set of drawings be commissioned for his or her text, then does it become a different piece of work if other illustrations are used? I think these are very important issues, which demand close consideration but that does not mean I have any settled opinions on the matter.

If one were to argue that such things are unimportant then he or she would do well to consider the situation as applied to picture books or comic books: two components that work less with the written word and more with the illustrations. As one who is currently researching postcolonial paraliterature, including Hugo Pratt’s ‘Corto Maltese’ series, I would say that a lot of information is implicit in what appears in the frame, as opposed to what is explicitly declared in speech bubbles. Indeed, within a comic strip, ideas can subtly be diffused to and absorbed by the reader/viewer, in just as many ways as the written words of a text can be transmitted.

In choosing which Peter Pan text to exhibit, this idea of the importance of illustrations and their differing values and meanings has really come into focus for me. With that in mind, which volume of Barrie’s text should be chosen to show the general public? I am hoping that we can exhibit as many as possible, in part to manifest these ideas but, additionally, to give a showcase to as many different artists’ ideas as space allows.

References

Warner, Marina. ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ Tate Etc. 1 Sept. 2011 <http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/curiouser-and-curiouser> Web.

A Doll’s Life

The book vault of the Museum of Childhood spans the globe both imaginatively and geographically. Russian fairy tales and handmade Japanese books nestle in boxes alongside home-grown favourites such as Peter Pan or Treasure Island. This often makes our task of sifting through the archive one of curiosity and unexpected delight. And the common thread that links these volumes is that each has somehow made a journey to the Museum’s collection. In that sense, there is always a local connection to each book, no matter how far-flung or remote it might seem.

Part of our exhibition, ‘Growing Up With Books’ (opening June 2018), will celebrate the well-travelled nature and diversity of the Museum’s archive —  a little history of the binding and interconnected story of children’s literature. In today’s blog, Sarah presents a ‘taster’, or miniature, of that aspect in describing a small illustrated French book which we pulled out of a box one day. Continue reading