Call for Papers: Happiness, Childhood, and Children's Literature
16th November 2013, St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that children are born innocent and happy; all their educators need to do is protect this natural state of childhood from being contaminated by society. In the last few years, however, a radical reassessment of happiness has taken place in critical theory, through thinkers such as Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant. They point to the social construction of the idea of happiness, how it varies over history and geography, and is based on predominating social values. As such, “happiness” can work as an ideology that welcomes some kinds of lifestyles and excludes others. In particular, they emphasize the difference that gender and sexuality makes to conventional models of a “happy” life. Their resituating of happiness as a normative and often oppressive ideology brings us the opportunity to reassess the place of happiness in children’s literature.
No sustained study of happiness in children’s literature has taken place since Fred Inglis’ The Promise of Happiness: Values and Meaning in Children’s Fiction was published in 1981. Inglis suggests that children’s literature is exempt from the critique of happiness: "Whatever has happened to the idea of beauty and happiness in adult art, our children must keep faith with their radical innocence." However, such children’s books as John Burningham’s Granpa, Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls, and Michael Rosen’s Sad Book deal with the loss of loved ones and of home. Such texts reject happy endings, and implicitly or explicitly, see and value more negative emotions such as mourning, fear, and depression in children. These texts raise the issue of the purpose of children’s literature: should it prepare children for sad truths, or shield children from them? In this way, such works move to redefine the "happy ending."
Should children’s literature play a role towards encouraging or defining happiness? How do cultural differences affect children’s happiness? This conference invites papers on happiness in English and French children’s literature or theorisations of childhood.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
-childhood “innocence”; criminal children; angelic children
-adult nostalgia; childhood idylls
-humour; play; fantasy; utopia
-unconventional modes of happiness; non-normative families; gender and sexuality
-dealing with death, tragedy and war
-representations of depression; angst; suicide
-Rousseau; Winnicott; Klein; childhood and affect
-cultural differences and happiness; post-colonial children’s literature
-adaptation, translation and changing values of happiness
Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than 21st September 2013.
This one-day conference on Saturday 16th November 2013 at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, is organized by Queen Mary, University of London. We are fortunate to welcome keynotes on French and English children’s literature, highly successful children’s authors, and the renowned producer Martin Pope ) for what promises to be an exciting day.
Penelope Brown, University of Manchester
Anna Kemp, Queen Mary, University of London (author of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet)
Diane Purkiss, Keble College, University of Oxford (co-author of the Corydon series)
Martin Pope, producer of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child films