University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > Remembering, Rereading, and Reviewing the Canon: the case of The Secret Garden

Remembering, Rereading, and Reviewing the Canon: the case of The Secret Garden

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In this paper I will explore how reading histories might be used to reform ideas of canonicity in children’s literature, through a case study focusing on gendered response. The figure of the general reader has not always been central to formulations of quality or taste in literature, although as early as 1969 Hans Robert Jauss made a claim for a literary history based on ‘aesthetics of reception’. Even where empirical reader-response theory and reception studies have offered up new ways of interrogating the literary canon, the experiences of child readers have often proved illusive. Children’s aesthetic responses are notoriously hard to quantify, while their reading taste is often guided by the adults around them and its impact on the broader cultural imaginary is difficult to assess. Yet one clear method for establishing a canon of children’s literature is to trace the texts that are best remembered and which continue to have an impact on readers into older age. In this talk, I set out such a method within the context of an experimental project, in which adult readers recall significant books from their childhood and review their responses by returning to reread them. I will discuss Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, asking what happens when this classic example of British ‘girls’ fiction’ is remembered by male readers.

Biography Alison Waller is Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton, London, where she convenes the MA in Children’s Literature by distance learning. She is the author of Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism (Routledge 2009) and has published widely on adolescence and young adult writers, including Robert Cormier, Margaret Mahy, Philip Pullman and J.D. Salinger. She is co-organiser of an interdisciplinary Memory Network and is currently investigating the practice and processes of adults remembering and rereading childhood books. Her research interests also extend to ideas of consciousness, memory and science in young adult fiction.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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