Critical Children

The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels

Richard Locke

Columbia University Press

Critical Children

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Pub Date: July 2013

ISBN: 9780231157834

232 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£24.00

Pub Date: September 2011

ISBN: 9780231157827

232 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£70.00

Pub Date: September 2011

ISBN: 9780231527996

232 Pages

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List Price: $29.99£24.00

Critical Children

The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels

Richard Locke

Columbia University Press

The ten novels explored in Critical Children portray children so vividly that their names are instantly recognizable. Richard Locke traces the 130-year evolution of these iconic child characters, moving from Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip in Great Expectations to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; from Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw to Peter Pan and his modern American descendant, Holden Caulfield; and finally to Lolita and Alexander Portnoy.

"It's remarkable," writes Locke, "that so many classic (or, let's say, unforgotten) English and American novels should focus on children and adolescents not as colorful minor characters but as the intense center of attention." Despite many differences of style, setting, and structure, they all enlist a particular child's story in a larger cultural narrative. In Critical Children, Locke describes the ways the children in these novels have been used to explore and evade large social, psychological, and moral problems.

Writing as an editor, teacher, critic, and essayist, Locke demonstrates the way these great novels work, how they spring to life from their details, and how they both invite and resist interpretation and provoke rereading. Locke conveys the variety and continued vitality of these books as they shift from Victorian moral allegory to New York comic psychoanalytic monologue, from a child who is an agent of redemption to one who is a narcissistic prisoner of guilt and proud rage.
Using the portrayal of childhood as his eye-opening theme and total immersion as his critical method, Richard Locke brilliantly reexamines classic novels we complacently thought we understood. He enlarges and freshens our insight into modern works by Salinger, Nabokov, and Philip Roth by placing them in a line that reaches back to masterpieces by Dickens and Twain. This is an intense, subtle, elegantly written, and exceptionally illuminating work. Morris Dickstein, author of Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
Deep, acute, skillful, responsive, and determined to get into these ten famous novels whose exteriors are so glistening, Richard Locke's Critical Children is a major instance of active literary criticism in our moment. Richard Howard, author of Without Saying
Richard Locke succeeds in giving a fresh mythic quality to the prismlike insights of Dickens, Twain, James, Barrie, Salinger, Nabokov, and Roth (with a nod to the other Roth, Henry).... His chapters on Dickens and Barrie are outstanding; and Locke may be the first to detect the effect of seventeenth-century scholar Sir Thomas Browne on Holden Caulfield. Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Richard Locke has done a remarkable job. His criticism operates at a very high level of engagement with the text, pulling into play a wide range of associations and intellectual focus that is rare and exhilarating. Jay Parini, author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America
Critical Children is a fine example of literary criticism at its most sensitive and probing and hearteningly reminds us that the criticism of fiction is still possible and worth doing. William H. Pritchard, author of Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered
Brilliant... Everyone... will be affected by Locke's love for the works he discusses. His commentary sends you rushing back to the original novels, eager to reread them and do your own interpreting. Irish Times
incisive and entertaining.... Frank Cottrell Boyce, Wall Street Journal
While remaining sensitive to the historical and cultural specificity of texts, Locke celebrates these novels; he subjects character to the closest of close readings; he immerses himself and revels in the words on the page. Amber K. Regis, Times Literary Supplement
Highly recommended. Choice
a profoundly thoughtful and engaging addition to the field of American and English literary studies. Years Work in English Studies
Introduction
1. Charles Dickens's Heroic Victims: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip
2. Mark Twain's Free Spirits and Slaves: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
3. Henry James's Demonic Lambs: Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw
4. J. M. Barrie's Eternal Narcissist: Peter Pan
5. J. D. Salinger's Saintly Dropout: Holden Caulfield
6. Vladimir Nabokov's Abused Nymph: Lolita
7. Philip Roth's Performing Loudmouth: Alexander Portnoy
Acknowledgments
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Richard Locke is professor of writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts, and his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, The Threepenny Review, The Yale Review, and other publications. He has been editor in chief of Vanity Fair and deputy editor of the New York Times Book Review.