English and drama

Modernism and Childhood

Module code: Q3267
Level 5
15 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module will examine the role of childhood in British and American literary modernism, as well as the role of modernity in childhood, with an emphasis on US culture. Many modernist authors were fascinated by childhood and wrote books intended for children; meanwhile, scientific and pedagogical theories of childhood – prescriptive, descriptive, and everything in between – proliferated, revealing the degree to which childhood has always been subject to historical and cultural contingencies.

We will explore ideas like cuteness, innocence, play, and learning as they were constructed in the early twentieth century, and the roles that they played in the overlap between modernism and children’s literature. We will touch on some canonical children’s literature (Winnie-the-Pooh, A Child’s Garden of Verses) and some canonical modernist literature (Harmonium, Tender Buttons), as well as some literature that fits neither category very comfortably. We will also devote significant portions of the module to understanding psychoanalysis, both as a critical tool and as a set of powerful primary texts of modern childhood.

Module learning outcomes

  • think historically about childhood and the artefacts of childhood
  • understand key formal and historical features of literary modernism
  • understand key concepts in psychoanalysis, history of anthropology, and queer theory as they apply to the study of childhood
  • situate "children's literature" vis-à-vis modernism