Theory – Narratology – Criticism
The aim of the project is to both conceptualize literary representations of childhood in terms of a critical literary theory, and to analyse such representations with narratological methods. It attempts to strengthen and systematise the theoretical approach to the categories child and childhood in scholarly investigations of English literature and beyond.
The project is based on two hypotheses: first, childhood and some closely related concepts (such as non-age, adulthood, im-maturity) are central social constructions which are negotiated in literature in a variety of ways; second, literary constructions of childhood, and narrative ones in particular, feed into social discourses of childhood and thus contribute significantly to the constructions of social realities and individual identity formation. Another premise is that the culturally constructed binaries of child vs. adult and child vs. parents are just relevant axes of differentiation, just as the categories gender, race or ethnicity and class, a fact that literary studies ought to acknowledge, especially since the latter categories already have their undisputed place in literary analysis and interpretation.
Literary scholarship has so far concerned itself with childhood predominantly by focussing on the literary representation of the early phases in the life of characters, neglecting the aspect of adult characters who of course continue being the children of their parents, which is frequently discussed in novels; the project will integrate the representation of what can be called adult children in the theoretical and analytical approach to literary childhoods.
The existence of a large number of novels that deal with childhood and are directed not at young readers but at an adult audience in the second half of the 20th century in Britain alone signals a need for a systematic scholarly treatment of children and childhood in literature. The project will select exemplary texts for detailed analysis from a corpus of well over 100 novels.
The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG); it has started on 1 June 2017 and will run until 2020.