Topics covered in the 2021 summer school

Each session will involve a recorded talk or presentation, which you will have access to from the start of the week, allowing you to move through the material at your own pace. You will also be provided with key extracts from texts and a resource list, so you can delve as deeply as you wish into each topic.

Each session will be accompanied by a discussion forum – where you can share your ideas and views with other summer school participants and teaching staff.

There will also be a number of optional live virtual seminars with teaching staff. A schedule for these live sessions can be found here.

Short abstracts for each of the sessions will be added below soon.


Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales

Dr Jarlath Killeen

In the lecture, I will look at Wilde’s two collections of fairy tales, The Happy Prince and other tales (1888), and A House of Pomegranates (1890), and examine the ways in which they have been read as ‘Irish’ stories, influenced in particular by oral culture. Wilde’s parents were both important figure in the growing folklore ‘industry’ of the late nineteenth century, and the lecture will look at this industry and ask whether it is really helpful to think of Wilde’s fairy tales as a part of it. The lecture will look at the influences of both oral and literary traditions on two of the best-known of the fairy tales, ‘The Young King’ and ‘The Selfish Giant’, and examine the tension between these two traditions, asking how this impacts on our reading of the tales.


L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Heroic Journeys, Display, and Adaptation

Dr Dara Downey

This talk focuses on L. Frank Baum’s children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), both as a literary text and as a cultural phenomenon. As a story, Dorothy’s quest to find her way home from Oz to Kansas, and the various characters who aid and hinder her in that quest, raises a number of issues surrounding the development of writing from younger readers in the United States at the turn of the century, including the book’s swerving of overt moralising, the uses of the imagination, and the degree of agency granted to young women and girls. As a physical object, Baum’s lavishly illustrated novel and its sequels have much to say about the more material aspects of market for such fiction at the time, not least because Baum himself was a key figure in the development of shop-window display. Finally, as a cultural artefact, the characters, plot, and imagery of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 film adaptation are instantly recognisable, and have been employed in a wide variety of media and contexts. The talk therefore concludes by considering some of the issues around adaptation and “memeification” that crystallise around Dorothy, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the friends who help her along the way.


‘The Wonders of Common Things’: Stories told by Objects in Children’s Literature

Dr Jane Carroll

The nineteenth century saw an exponential increase in children’s it-narratives, stories told from the point of view of an inanimate object. Though these children’s it-narratives have some of the hallmarks of their 18th century predecessors, I argue that they constitute a distinct sub-genre, one that is deeply concerned with science as well as morality. These strange, witty stories centre on familiar household objects and show that even the most mundane items have complicated histories. It-narratives allow the child reader to become an informed and enlightened consumer, one who understands where and how the things in their possession are made.

In this session, we will meet a chatty pin, a snobbish piece of coal, a vain teacup and many other strange characters. We will examine the ways the it-narrative juxtaposes the worldly and long-lasting object, with the naïve and young child reader. This session offers an overview of this common – though undervalued – genre and uses extracts from three nineteenth-century it-narratives ALOE’s The Story of a Needle (1870) E.M. Stirling’s The story of a pin; or, The changes and chances of an eventful life (1872) and Annie Carey’s The Wonders of Common Things (1880) as the basis for our seminar discussion.


Ælfric’s Colloquy on the Occupations

Dr Alice Jorgensen

The early middle ages might not seem a promising place to look for children’s literature. However, there are surviving texts that were written specifically for children, and many of these have a dimension of entertainment as well as education. Ælfric’s Colloquy on the Occupations is an example of a dialogue written to help boys in monastery schools learn Latin. Composed around the year 1000, it starts and ends with boys and their schoolmaster talking about their life in the monastery. In the middle part a series of characters, including a ploughman, a huntsman, a fisherman and a baker, describe their occupations, and there is a debate over which is the most useful. Although the text is brief, it gives us evidence for how a medieval writer tried to appeal to children; how he thought about the differences between children and adults; adult power over and discipline of children; and how a specific group of children, boys who would grow up to be monks, were taught to see their own path as the best one. In the lecture I will show examples of other, related texts, including some much less edifying Latin-teaching dialogues written by another Ælfric, Ælfric Bata.


William Blake and Romantic Childhoods

Dr Clare Clarke

For many, the Romantics invented our modern idea of childhood. William Blake published the series of engraved, illuminated poems Songs of Innocence in 1789 and its companion piece Songs of Experience in 1794. In these collections, Blake investigates, as he puts it in the subtitle, ‘the two contrary states of the human soul’. He wrote and designed these poems in response to an 18th-century tradition of literature addressed to children for moral instruction – didactic literature — and more broadly in response to changing ideas about childhood. Blake’s vision embraces radical subjects such as poverty, child labour and abuse, the repressive nature of the state and church, as well as the right of children to be treated as individuals with their own desires.  In this session we will look at how Blake’s Songs drew on the formal properties of street ballads and nursery rhymes, as well as didactic children’s literature, and speak to key Romantic themes such as education, state institutions, childhood, nature, religion and the spiritual world – all conveyed in apparent simplistic language which masks their irony and scathing social and political engagement.


Running Amok: The Domestic Adventures of Children at Home

Dr Becky Long

The global pandemic has kept most of humanity indoors for over a year. What have we done in our domestic spaces? How have we lived? How have we entertained ourselves? How have children coped with sudden limitations imposed on their freedom? Or have they learned to create their own freedom? Houses figure largely in all fiction but particularly in fiction written for children. The house as home is one theme but the house as space, both domestic and interior is also a compelling lens to examine the representation of childhood in children’s books. How have the children of canonical children’s books coped with being cooped up indoors?

In this session, we will consider the adventures of children who find themselves limited or confined to domestic spaces. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911), Mary Lennox arrives in a new country, recently orphaned and finds herself initially confined to a sprawling country house. In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), the Pevensie children are evacuated into the Professor’s country house from a war-ravaged London. In Lucy M. Boston’s Children of the Green Knowe (1954), Tolly is visiting Green Knowe, a house where he encounters the spirits of his ancestors. Ultimately, this session is concerned with the freedom some children in literature experience as they explore large domestic indoor spaces; spaces in which to grow, to use their imaginations: to create stories and narratives which chronicle not only their exploration of the houses but also their own childhoods. The house is the place within which literary children come of age; the childhood space is slowly transformed even as the children explore these houses and move deeper and further into the narratives of their own lives.


Menstruation and the Pubescent Body in Children’s Literature

Dr Jade Dillon

This session will explore the liminal space between girlhood and womanhood often represented in children’s fantasy fiction. We will investigate the presence of menstruation and the pubescent body through examples spanning from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll; 1865), Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie; 1911), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett; 1911), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis; 1950), Northern Lights (Philip Pullman; 1995), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 1997), and Coraline (Neil Gaiman; 2002). In many ways, the cusp of femininity is constructed through the movement of the body from one realm into another. Ultimately, these female protagonists exist between the space of girlhood and womanhood. The physical transition into an alternate reality signifies the beginnings of menstruation for the female protagonist, and thus begins the true journey of the self.

This session will focus specifically on the changing bodily form and the bleeding vagina. The body will be explored through a close reading of the literary texts and an interpretative analysis of inspired illustrations and photographs.