Child’s play, toys and pure games: revising the romantic child in Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen and Don DeLillo

Kruger, Katherine (2018) Child’s play, toys and pure games: revising the romantic child in Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen and Don DeLillo. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis analyses the opportunities that child’s play presents for language, style and reading practices in the works of Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen and Don DeLillo, and the consequent forms of literary knowledge that this relationship between play and writing produces. I argue that James’s work represents a shift in literary and cultural relationships with “childhood” and trace the ways in which, following his work, childhood becomes a resistant performance of obliviousness, an unreadable subjectivity reluctantly tied to, and at points struggling against, the objects and activities associated with the child at play.
In the introduction I delineate a shared history of representations of “childhood” and theories of play in order to locate what versions of the Romantic child still exist in modernist and postmodernist literature and theory. Engaging with work by Jacqueline Rose, Robin Bernstein and Daniela Caselli on the difficulty of delineating or interpreting childhood, I explore a literary preoccupation with the aesthetic value of an elusive childhood knowledge, and forms of not knowing such as innocence, located in child’s play. Chapter one proposes that for James, the difficulty with reading the child is tied to the child as reader. In What Maisie Knew, James encourages what I term a childlike reading practice, which develops in response to an adult suspicion of childhood. The second chapter considers the ways in which imaginative child’s play in Bowen’s novels, and the work of the Romantic figure of the writer-as-child which emerges from the compulsion to appropriate this form of play, is continually disrupted by the materiality of toys. Often rendered impotent, these toys, such as tricycles and kaleidoscopes, interrupt modernity’s narratives of progress, and rupture the value systems of the modernist novel that privilege difficulty and subjectivity. My final chapter identifies the ways in which DeLillo’s novels attempt to redeem language by bringing pre-linguistic childhood babble into discourse to render accessible the secrets of childhood knowledge. DeLillo experiments with the pure games of poststructuralism only to contrast them with the play of the postmodern wild child able to navigate a post-apocalyptic wilderness of hyper-real simulacra.
These scenes in which writers engage with toys and child’s play to conceptualise the work of writing a novel and their relationship with their readership, form a narrative about the changing versions of literary knowledge that are produced in attempts to represent “childhood” in the face of its loaded Romantic literary history and twentieth-century shifts in cultural fantasies invested in the idea of the alterity of child’s play.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ0503 The Family. Marriage. Home > HQ0767.8 Children. Child development Including child rearing, child life, play, socialisation, children's rights > HQ0782 Play as a childhood activity
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960 > PR6003.O657 Bowen, Elizabeth
P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0700 Individual authors > PS0991 19th century > PS2110 James, Henry
P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0700 Individual authors > PS3550 1961-2000 > PS3554.E4425 DeLillo, Don
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2018 08:53
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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