Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘children’s literature’ Category

You know that old metaphor about whether scholars are hedgehogs or foxes? (See a great series on this topic over at Notorious Ph.D.’s blog.) Well, apparently grad students are all badgers. Any of this sound familiar?

    “I am writing a treatise just now,” said the badger, coughing diffidently to show that he was absolutely set on explaining it, “which is to point out why Man has become the master of the animals. Perhaps you would like to hear it?
“It’s for my doctor’s degree, you know,” he added hastily, before the Wart could protest. He got few chances of reading his treatises to anybody, so he could not bear to let the opportunity slip by.
“Thank you very much,” said the Wart.
“It will be good for you, dear boy. It is just the thing to top off an education. Study birds and fish and animals: then finish off with Man. How fortunate that you came! Now where the devil did I put that manuscript?”
The old gentleman scratched about with his great claws until he had turned up a dirty bundle of papers, one corner of which had been used for lighting something. Then he sat down in his leather armchair, which had a deep depression in the middle of it; put on his velvet smoking-cap with the tassel; and produced a pair of tarantula spectacles, which balanced on the end of his nose.
“Hem,” said the badger.
He immediately became paralyzed with shyness, and sat blushing at his papers, unable to begin.
“Go on,” said the Wart.
“It is not very good,” he explained coyly. “It is just a rough draft, you know. I shall alter a lot before I sent it in.”
“I am sure it must be interesting.”
“Oh not, it is not a bit interesting. It is just an odd thing I threw off in an odd half-hour, just to pass the time. But still, this is how it begins.
“Hem!” said the badger. Then he put on an impossibly high falsetto voice and began to read as fast as possible.

I’m rereading The Once and Future King by T. H. White for the first time since I was a kid. I had forgotten how delicious and wise and funny it is. Don’t we all need an audience like the Wart sometimes? Some of us even resort to writing blogs. And I just love that “‘It’s not very good,’ he explained coyly.”

The story which the badger tells from his treatise is quite wonderful also, and a great literary response to biological determinists on human warfare as “natural.”

(Aside: It depresses me how many of the initial hits for a simple Google search of “badger once and future king” are commercial reading summaries, presumably for students assigned The Once and Future King in a class. Not that book guides are inherently bad, but this looks like “I didn’t want to do the homework” material, and it’s disheartening that there are readers out there so overwhelmed or under-motivated that they would miss out on the delight of this book. Don’t even get me started on the “FREE OaFK Essays!” links.)

Read Full Post »

Random Bullets of Hans Christian Andersen, that is.

While collecting some materials at the Landesarchiv Schleswig, I’m staying at an absolutely lovely Ferienwohnung (pension). Its only fault is internet speed as slow-moving as the glaciers which formed the Kiel Fjord (out there in the Ostsee). As this is actually probably beneficial for my internet addiction, I’m out this evening, writing this particular blog entry on paper.

I just took a stroll along the Schlei, where the sight of sea foam gathering on the rocks made me think of Hans Christian Andersen, naturally. So here is a list of random thoughts I’m having inspired by the storyspinner, unsullied by searching for actual information on the web.

  • Firstly, is that white stuff actually sea foam?  Any ocean-studying people out there want to tell me what sea foam really is?
 sea foam
  • The aristocratic family (the counts zu Rantzau in Breitenburg) whose papers I spent a fortune copying today [1] produced a son named Conrad. Conrad grew up, and, following that, became a semi-important figure in the struggle over the Schleswig-Holstein Question. [2] It’s hard to imagine it while walking around the sleepy town today, but this region was at least warmly contested between Denmark and Germany until a mere century and a half ago. Anyway, our Conrad served as a diplomat and minister during the border uncertainty and consequently acquired several Danish connections, including his membership in the Danish Order of the Elephant [3] and a friendship he cultivated with one Danish poet: Hans Christian Andersen. And you thought I’d completely lost the “point.”
  • Speaking of noble houses, do you know the story about poor HCA’s unrequited infatuation with his friend Edvard Collin, his patron’s son? Apparently Andersen, who was desperately in love with this guy, begged to be allowed the familiarity of using the informal “you” grammatical form—only to get shot down by his social superior. This story came up recently during a conversation about the tricky social mechanics of the German equivalent (the occasions to “duzen” someone) with the delightful Hillary and Brooke. It is just not as simple as beginning grammar books would have you believe. (Though at least I haven’t suffered as much as HCA!)
  • The pathetic tragedy of that story and other details of the real Andersen’s biography (e.g. overstaying his welcome at Charles Dickens’s house so long the novelist wrote in his diary about how much they were waiting for Andersen to leave) make me want to balance knowing these things with the also sad but endearing details of his funeral. I remember reading somewhere that there was a long parade of children at the affair, and it’s certainly true that HCA asked a composer to write music for the funeral to “keep time with little steps.”
  • From the sad to the sweet to the silly: I probably heard that story about Collin in a course with Jack Zipes. In addition to publishing a study of Hans Christian Andersen in 2005, he’s one of the most influential scholars on the Grimms, folklore in general, and children’s literature, and, I’m lucky to say, one of my teachers. Jack’s work has been important to shaping my ideas about fairy tales since before we met. [4] On one point I disagree with him, however: the 1952 Danny Kaye/Frank Loesser musical Hans Christian Andersen. Jack has described it as (I’m paraphrasing here) a schlocky and ridiculous piece of fiction.  I agree, it has almost nothing to do with the, shall we say, “historical” or “actual” Andersen, except: Stephen and I watched it on VHS repeatedly as kids, and I cannot abandon my affection for it. I mean just listen: “A swan? Me, a swan? Ah, go on!” … “What’s the difference if you’re very small?/When your heart is full of love, you’re nine feet tall!” … “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town…“ It’s enough to make me want to hop the border this instant.
  • Coming round again to that sea foam, I want to close with a great photo my friend and former student Yueqin sent me. Here she is, in all her lovely, tragic poignancy—but not in Copenhagen Harbor! For the first time, the Little Mermaid left Denmark to journey to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Now you tell me, does that reincarnation as a celebrated world traveler redeem the story of her (literal) loss of self, or only underscore the cruelty of her sacrifice? I don’t know, I’m too busy listening to “The suit of clothes is altogether, but altogether, it’s altogether the most remarkable suit of clothes that I have ever seen…”
little mermaid


1. I think it was worth it, though: great children’s letters and school documents, as well as the longest and most elaborate collection of holiday “cards” I’ve encountered yet. Usually an archive file will hold one or two or five of these artful wishes for New Year’s or a parent’s birthday. This Abteilung has almost 50, and each is an extravagantly presented pamphlet of several pages.

2. I know I already posted this to thefacebook AND quoted it to everybody likely to read this blog, but I just have to offer the best of descriptions for this historical murkiness (borrowed from Wikipedia’s citation of Lytton Stracey’s 1921 book on Queen Victoria):  “‘Only three people,’ said Palmerston, ‘have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.'”

3. There it is, historical coincidence (or serendipity?) keeping the blog-naming justified.

4. I actually realized recently that my dear friend Rose and I used one of Jack Zipes’s books in an Agora Days class on fairy tales which we taught in high school.

Read Full Post »

The longer it took me to get back into blog-writing, the more pressure I felt to write something really fabulous and meaningful, something of Great Importance. I ask you, is there any subject more important than pancakes?

After this long absence, it would serve me right if there were no longer any readers of this blog. I now see how easy it is to get out the habit!

This blog was conceived to help me contend with how rapidly my work-life was changing after finishing prelims and launching into dissertation research travel. But it was all that travel got the best of the blog this past year. (Really, how has it been a year‽‽)

Last spring, I returned from Braunschweig and Berlin for a couple more months in Minnesota. I officially moved out of my beloved Nordeast house in May and traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the German Historical Institute Transatlantic Doctoral Seminar. The weekend was intense but rewarding, given the awfully smart work of the other participants and the exceptional organization of the conference (seriously, I’ve never attended a conference or workshop so thoughtfully designed). In June, supported by a travel grant from the Friends of the Princeton University Library, I spent a month at the incomparable Cotsen Children’s Library.

Travel does bring rewards: meeting dear friends' new baby

At the end of that month, I gave a paper on a panel I helped organized about “Representations of History for Children and Youth” for the Society for the History of Children & Youth conference, where there simply wasn’t enough time to revel in the experience of hundreds of people talking about the history of childhood.

July brought perhaps my most exciting trip of the year, to Beijing for a presentation at the World History Association with University of Minnesota professors & students (Mary Jo Maynes, Ann Waltner, Qin Fang, and Yueqin Chen). Not only was the location memorable, but exploring it with those friends was particularly special.

Peking University, where my family lived in 1996

Then it was back to Germany for late July and August, supported by a grant from the Conference Group for Central European History. This was my first experience in the south of Germany (Grüß Gott!), so I did some sightseeing in between reading some really intriguing family papers in several archives across Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

Munich's International Youth Library

A few weeks at home in September while my parents prepared for their move from Illinois to Cape Cod also included a couple of trips back up to Minnesota.

But I’ve been settled now for four months here in Berlin, where I’m extremely lucky to be able to concentrate fully on my dissertation research with the support of a Research Grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD). I’m definitely glad to be returning to this space while I work out new ideas, try to solve archive puzzles, and am alternately enchanted and perplexed by life in this exceptional city.

I may work up some backdated finds-of-the-day from collections in the Cotsen Library, the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, the Germanisches National Museum, and here in Berlin. I also plan to write a little about Berlin’s fabulous Lange Nacht der Museen, as well as some posts on marginalia and my research technology. And of course, some more elephants are likely to turn up (for such large animals they can be surprisingly stealthy):

…on a tea set I saw in Germany last year…

…in typography….

Did you know that the Swedish word for the “at-sign” (@) is “snabel,” because the curl around the a looks like an elephant’s trunk?  This makes me excessively happy. Apparently @ is also a snabel in Danish, but Italians see it as a snail, the Chinese as a little mouse, and the Dutch as a monkey’s tail. So much for globalizing technologies erasing regional difference! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign.

…at the elegant Hotel Elephant in Weimar, which prefers to be remembered for hosting Goethe and Schiller, rather than Hitler’s balcony appearances…

Read Full Post »

Children’s fiction in the late Enlightenment was often presented in dialogue, as a sort of play. Some of these publications are surprisingly engaging, with comic characters, little dramatic subplots, and even minor stage directions. This kind of dialogue provokes interesting questions about how young people might have interacted with the text and one another, in an age when reading aloud was still more common than not.

But those stories are definitely the exception. For the most part, these exchanges between “real children” are as didactic and forced as other early children’s literature. It’s odd, though, to see even a two-dimensional, paper child expressing opinions about their own learning, when I’m so urgently seeking any scraps of evidence about real children’s reading subjectivities. I need to spend more time thinking about the relationships between historical readers and these dramatis personae.

Here’s an example from perhaps the most famous French periodical for young people, Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s Magasin des Enfans, which I finally got around to reading in the BnF last month. Take a look at this exchange between two friends about their dolls and trinkets:

Lady Spiritual: It’s been more than six months since I threw all these things in the fire: I begged Papa to give me all the money that he had spend on these bagatelles so that I could buy books and pay all kinds of teachers.

Lady Babiole [name of a fairy tale princess from Mme. d’Aulnoy]: I’m not of your taste: if I were the mistress, in place of giving two guineas a month to my geography teacher, I would have the most beautiful things in the world brought from Paris; this would amuse me very much, instead of this man boring me to death; when I see him, I can’t stop yawning at every moment: he tells Mama, she scolds me, and that makes me hate the teacher and geography even more.

Lady Spiritual: You don’t like reading stories?

Lady Babiole: No, honestly, my dear; still, it’s necessary that I read, because Papa wants it: but when I’m grown up; and can do what I want, I assure you that I will never read.

 

I suppose there’s a way in which we could read these characters as together demonstrating a range of opinions that more or less does represent girls’ feelings in 18th c. France. But the problem is that the rest of the story is obviously intended to persuade its contemporary audience that Lady Spiritual’s position is the only one moral and true.   Hmm. Before I leave this passage to percolate, I want to point out how radical it is that even the sanctimonious Spiritual is shown to be making her own choices about her time, education, money, and consumption!

[Below is the original text. French experts, forgive any errors I’ve made in my quick translation. Better yet, suggest any changes in the comments!]

Lady Spirituelle. Il y a plus de six mois que j’ai jeté toutes ces choses dans le feu: j’ai prié papa de me donner tout l’argent qu’il employait à ces bagatelles, pour acheter des livres, et payer toutes sortez de maîtres.

Lady Babiole. Je ne suis point de votre goût: si j’étais la maîtresse, au lieu de donner deux guinées par mois à mon maître de géographie, je ferais venir de Paris les plus jolies choses du monde; cela m’amuserait beaucoup, au lieu que cet homme m’ennuie à la mort; quand je le vois, je ne puis m’empêcher de bâiller à tous momens: il le dit à maman, on me gronde, et cela fait que je hais encore davantage le maître et la géographie.

Lady Spirituelle. Vous n’aimez donc pas à lire des histoire?

Lady Babiole. Non, en vérité; ma chère; il faut cependant que je lise, car papa le veut: mais quand je serai grande; et que je pourrai faire ce que je voudrai, je vous assure que je ne lirai jamais.

*    *    *

2 notes: First, is it possible that there’s a relationship between the French gronder, to scold, and the American sense of “being grounded”?  Or is the latter simply a borrowed metaphor from aeronautics?  And second, though I haven’t even gotten through the posts from my first stay in Paris, I’m now back in the city for one night (perfectly timed with a transit strike) before flying back across the ocean.  To be close to the train station, I’m staying in a delightfully disreputable hostel near Montmartre.  It’s very vie bohème.  At least in my head.

Read Full Post »

N.B.  These posts will be backlogged for awhile, since I started collecting them several weeks ago in Paris. But ideally the delay will allow me to catch up and start posting notes from the reading I do back in Minneapolis.

*   *   *

My first morsel from the archive is actually from an Austrian journal article I was able to read at the BnF (Blumesberger, see below). It’s an analysis of youth periodicals by an author publishing in the early 19th c., Antonia Wutka, someone I’ve also studied. The article offered some biographical details I hadn’t known before about her experiences growing up in an orphanage. For example, Wutka apparently taught herself how to read and write French by studying secretly at night (without a textbook). I think it’s an especially poignant image from the life of someone who really treasured learning communities and later devoted her life to teaching, writing, and promoting girls’ education.

On a lighter note, Blumesberger claims that this secret nocturnal study meant that Wutka couldn’t actually speak a word of French until she met some French people later in life who helped perfect her accent.  Reading this on my first day in Paris last month, it gave me a welcome glimmer of hope for my own clunky French!

*   *   *

source: Susanne Blumesberger, “Antonie Wutkas Encyclopädie für die weibliche Jugend: Ein Beitrag zum Jugendschriftum des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts,” Biblos: Beiträge zu Buch, Bibliothek und Schrift 50, no. 1 (2001): 23-34.

Read Full Post »