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The miserly adult and the eternal child: an existentialist reading of The Little Prince

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The character of the Little Prince, in Antoine de St Exupéry’s novel (1942), is often cited as an outstanding example of puer aeternus – eternal child. Such characters are said to be atemporal or extra-temporal, expressing adult nostalgia for idealised, long-lost childhoods. This seminar questions this claim from an existentialist perspective. What if such children were not atemporal, but the opposite – perfectly on time? Contrasting the temporality of the Little Prince with those of key adult characters in the story, I examine the novel’s portrayal of distorted adult temporalities. These perceptions of time, and the ways the adult characters deal with them, delineate strategies deployed by the adult consciousness to soothe the temporal tension characteristic of the existential condition. This exploration leans on Nicolas Grimaldi’s (1971) analysis of the miser, a metaphor for the adult impulse to preserve intact the time left of childhood as the currency for unrealised possibilities.

Biography

Clémentine Beauvais works on children’s literature theory and the philosophy of childhood. Her particular research interests revolve around the concepts of the didactic discourse, the adult-child relationship, and the different temporal imaginations of childhood and adulthood. Her doctoral thesis, supervised by Maria Nikolajeva, explored politically committed children’s literature from a Sartrian perspective. She is currently a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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