NABOKV-L post 0010340, Sun, 12 Sep 2004 20:23:27 -0700

Subject
VN "Speak, Memory!" and Max Gorky's "Childhood"
Date
Body
EDNOTE: An exquisite grouping, no?



http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040911/BKLEVI11/TPComment/Columnists

Childish things
The Globe and Mail (subscription), Canada - 6 hours ago
... Of course, childhood is often brilliantly evoked in memoir, in
classics such as Maxim Gorky's My Childhood and Nabokov's Speak, Memory,
or more recent entries ...



TODAY'S PAPER


Childish things


By MARTIN LEVIN
Saturday, September 11, 2004 - Page D21


One of my fondest memories of childhood is that of being read to.
Whether listening to my mother intoning Kipling, or snuggled in bed with
my father, eating raisins out of a big jar and wrapped in the latest
adventure of Scrooge McDuck, the memory of reading -- a synaesthetic
memory in which colour, sound, smell and other sense impressions are
inseparably woven together -- has never lost its power.

Of course, it never occurred to me to ask whether my parents were
enjoying what they read; I assumed they loved whatever it was as much as
I did. I only thought to ask the question when I began to read to my
younger brother, or to my own children. Then I discovered the books that
could be read over and over again without being in the least tiresome:
Kipling's Just So Stories, Sherlock Holmes, Maurice Sendak's In the
Night Kitchen, anything by William Steig.

But there were also books that were unaccountably (to me) popular:
"issues" books that show it's okay for a boy to love dolls, or for a kid
to have two mums and no dad instead of the more usual one of each, or
stories maudlin, pointless and ill-told. Though not exactly steeped in
political correctness, I disliked the Curious George books (which my
children liked) not only for their easy colonialist assumption that the
man with a yellow hat could simply and without remorse spirit George out
of Africa, but for their drab bloodlessness.

As a child, I had, like so many children, a taste for all things bloody
and brutal: Dracula and Treasure Island and horror comics. Never quite
ready to put away childish things, I began as a young adult to read
fiction about childhood, and discovered there a full sense of its awe
and, more important, its terror. And no writer has ever better evoked
that duality than the man who more or less invented literary childhood:
Charles Dickens. Before Dickens, children in literature were either
absent or peripheral. In much Victorian literature, they are highly
sentimentalized. Even in Dickens, whose own well-chronicled childhood
woes made him intensely alert to the plight of children, was not immune
from treacle, most obviously in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which the
heroine, Little Nell, suffers the most protracted death (virtually all
of the novel's many, many pages) in literature. As Oscar Wilde wrote in
a slightly later, much less sentimental age, "One mus t have a heart of
stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."

But, though mawkish, Nell's death is not laughable. In Dickens's world,
that of Little Dorrit, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Swift, children,
though often resourceful and resilient, are terribly vulnerable. His two
greatest evocations of childhood are the magnificently autobiographical
David Copperfield and Great Expectations, novels in which we experience
the world fully through the eyes of children. But here's the rub for all
these young Dickensians: They are for the most part alone. Parents
cannot be trusted not to die; those assigned to protect them more often
become their abusers; and society . . . well, society is either made up
of predators and bullies, or doesn't seem much to care.

The aloneness of the perceptive child is also sometimes the subject of
another great, very different writer. Henry James, a homosexual, had no
children, whereas Dickens had many, but that didn't prevent him from
seeing them as touchstones who exposed adult evil or madness, as in the
haunting "ghost" story The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew, in
which the precocious title character is truly haunted by the corrupt and
sinister manipulations of her parents' disintegrating relationship.
James's contemporary, Mark Twain, was at the same time creating a world
where children were caught perilously between the drive to conform (Tom
Sawyer) and the need to escape adult constraints (Huck Finn).

Beginning in the 1950s, and galvanized by J. D. Salinger's The Catcher
in the Rye, the novel of adolescence, with its lusts and anxieties and
promises, blossomed. Perhaps fuelled by a perpetually adolescent boomer
generation, it remains both a critical and popular force in such recent
works as Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (good girl is raped and
murdered, but watches from the afterlife), Niccolo Ammaniti's I'm Not
Scared (boy in Italy discovers terrible family secret in sultry summer)
and Mark Haddon's multi-award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in
the Night-time (autistic youth, dead dog, fraught family).

Of course, childhood is often brilliantly evoked in memoir, in classics
such as Maxim Gorky's My Childhood and Nabokov's Speak, Memory, or more
recent entries such as Jennifer Lauck's Blackbird, Frank McCourt's
Angela's Ashes and Ernest Hillen's The Way of a Boy. But it is only in
the novel (my sampling is small; readers will have their own favourites)
that the side of childhood we're usually happier to deny, with its
terror of being abandoned or killed or orphaned or lost, comes fully
into its dark own.



















http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040911/BKLEVI11/TPComment/Columnists

Childish things
The Globe and Mail (subscription), Canada - 6 hours ago
... Of course, childhood is often brilliantly evoked in memoir, in
classics such as Maxim Gorky's My Childhood and Nabokov's Speak, Memory,
or more recent entries ...



TODAY'S PAPER


Childish things


By MARTIN LEVIN
Saturday, September 11, 2004 - Page D21


One of my fondest memories of childhood is that of being read to.
Whether listening to my mother intoning Kipling, or snuggled in bed with
my father, eating raisins out of a big jar and wrapped in the latest
adventure of Scrooge McDuck, the memory of reading -- a synaesthetic
memory in which colour, sound, smell and other sense impressions are
inseparably woven together -- has never lost its power.

Of course, it never occurred to me to ask whether my parents were
enjoying what they read; I assumed they loved whatever it was as much as
I did. I only thought to ask the question when I began to read to my
younger brother, or to my own children. Then I discovered the books that
could be read over and over again without being in the least tiresome:
Kipling's Just So Stories, Sherlock Holmes, Maurice Sendak's In the
Night Kitchen, anything by William Steig.

But there were also books that were unaccountably (to me) popular:
"issues" books that show it's okay for a boy to love dolls, or for a kid
to have two mums and no dad instead of the more usual one of each, or
stories maudlin, pointless and ill-told. Though not exactly steeped in
political correctness, I disliked the Curious George books (which my
children liked) not only for their easy colonialist assumption that the
man with a yellow hat could simply and without remorse spirit George out
of Africa, but for their drab bloodlessness.

As a child, I had, like so many children, a taste for all things bloody
and brutal: Dracula and Treasure Island and horror comics. Never quite
ready to put away childish things, I began as a young adult to read
fiction about childhood, and discovered there a full sense of its awe
and, more important, its terror. And no writer has ever better evoked
that duality than the man who more or less invented literary childhood:
Charles Dickens. Before Dickens, children in literature were either
absent or peripheral. In much Victorian literature, they are highly
sentimentalized. Even in Dickens, whose own well-chronicled childhood
woes made him intensely alert to the plight of children, was not immune
from treacle, most obviously in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which the
heroine, Little Nell, suffers the most protracted death (virtually all
of the novel's many, many pages) in literature. As Oscar Wilde wrote in
a slightly later, much less sentimental age, "One mus t have a heart of
stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."

But, though mawkish, Nell's death is not laughable. In Dickens's world,
that of Little Dorrit, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Swift, children,
though often resourceful and resilient, are terribly vulnerable. His two
greatest evocations of childhood are the magnificently autobiographical
David Copperfield and Great Expectations, novels in which we experience
the world fully through the eyes of children. But here's the rub for all
these young Dickensians: They are for the most part alone. Parents
cannot be trusted not to die; those assigned to protect them more often
become their abusers; and society . . . well, society is either made up
of predators and bullies, or doesn't seem much to care.

The aloneness of the perceptive child is also sometimes the subject of
another great, very different writer. Henry James, a homosexual, had no
children, whereas Dickens had many, but that didn't prevent him from
seeing them as touchstones who exposed adult evil or madness, as in the
haunting "ghost" story The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew, in
which the precocious title character is truly haunted by the corrupt and
sinister manipulations of her parents' disintegrating relationship.
James's contemporary, Mark Twain, was at the same time creating a world
where children were caught perilously between the drive to conform (Tom
Sawyer) and the need to escape adult constraints (Huck Finn).

Beginning in the 1950s, and galvanized by J. D. Salinger's The Catcher
in the Rye, the novel of adolescence, with its lusts and anxieties and
promises, blossomed. Perhaps fuelled by a perpetually adolescent boomer
generation, it remains both a critical and popular force in such recent
works as Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (good girl is raped and
murdered, but watches from the afterlife), Niccolo Ammaniti's I'm Not
Scared (boy in Italy discovers terrible family secret in sultry summer)
and Mark Haddon's multi-award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in
the Night-time (autistic youth, dead dog, fraught family).

Of course, childhood is often brilliantly evoked in memoir, in classics
such as Maxim Gorky's My Childhood and Nabokov's Speak, Memory, or more
recent entries such as Jennifer Lauck's Blackbird, Frank McCourt's
Angela's Ashes and Ernest Hillen's The Way of a Boy. But it is only in
the novel (my sampling is small; readers will have their own favourites)
that the side of childhood we're usually happier to deny, with its
terror of being abandoned or killed or orphaned or lost, comes fully
into its dark own.