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Gothic Childhood

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Organizer: Katherine Henninger

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From Jane Eyre to Gotham, from Harriett Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to Daniel Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, children are featured in tales of Gothic horror, and Gothic terror is featured in stories for children. The turn of the twenty-first century saw significant reappraisals of the history and function of the Gothic (e.g. Goddu, Palmer, Botting), as well as the burgeoning development of childhood studies as an academic field. This seminar brings these two fields of inquiry into dialogue, asking what each may offer the other, and to our understanding of past and present manifestations of the gothic and childhood in literature and visual culture. What new directions for comparative criticism do texts of Gothic childhood demand?

The papers in “Gothic Childhood” investigate interactions between the Gothic and childhood from a rich mix of theoretical approaches including Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, feminist theory, queer theory, visual culture studies and critical race theory. They address historical contexts ranging from early nineteenth-century Russia to British Victorianism to Argentine modernism to the contemporary U.S., across genres and media including fiction, poetry, memoir, television, graphic novels and photography. How have figures of gothic childhood been used to bolster and/or challenge structures of race, nation, gender, sexuality, class, or religion?  How does the child haunt theories of subjectivity and desire, psychoanalytic and otherwise? What accounts for the prevalence of the gothic in specific historical contexts, including contemporary children’s and YA literature? In conversation, these papers underline and newly configure the intertextual nature of both the Gothic and the child, exploring connections between childhood and traditional gothic motifs such as the paranormal, madness, magic, doppelgangers, possession, cruelty and the uncanny, or alternative manifestations of horror and the supernatural in gothic tropes of orphanhood, kinship, incest, and the queer or “quare” child.

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