Artful Artlessness: Authorship, Appropriation, and The Creative Child, 1858-1920 Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Carlson, Katherine L.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project reassesses both extant definitions of authorship and Victorian reconstructions of the Romantic child by analyzing the tradition of published British children in the period 1858-1920. It suggests that current criticism largely overlooks the phenomenon that made juvenile writers like Marjory Fleming and Daisy Ashford household names because that phenomenon unsettles cherished twenty-first century definitions of intellectual property. Attempting to extend the rights of authorship to the misspelled and unrevised work of minor dependents forces the recognition that childhood and authorship embody an uneasy relationship between autonomy and socialization. Victorians, however, embraced child-authorship because it foregrounded this paradox, which allowed them at once to celebrate childhood creativity and to appropriate it for their own artistic ends. Additionally, this project builds on Catherine Robson's claim that Victorian photography extended the bounds of adult-child collaboration already being explored in writing. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's images of children reveal complex attempts to afford sitters creative agency. In contrast, Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs repeatedly efface the agency of child-sitters, despite the fact that they have not inspired the accusations of exploitation that are legion in Dodgson scholarship. Rudyard Kipling and Frances Hodgson Burnett reflect similar questions of childhood agency when they acknowledge that they plagiarize the identities of their biological offspring by inserting them in fiction. Complicating the traditional book-as-baby trope as well as the evolutionary theory of recapitulation, Kipling in particular cast children as both outcomes of genetic reproduction and active creative originators, a paradox reflecting the same mixed complicity and resistance to adult forms that characterizes Daisy Ashford, Marjory Fleming and juvenile photographers Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. Griffiths and Wright - the infamous Cottingley Fairy photographers - created illusions of empirical evidence to prove the existence of fairies to adults. Their widely successful hoax challenged the infallibility of adult constructions of objectivity and earned them subjectivities outside of totalized notions of childhood artlessness and fancy. While it too was ultimately appropriated by adults, Griffiths and Wright's work joined that of Ashford and Fleming in subverting definitions of childhood which simultaneously objectify children, harvest their creativity, and marginalize them from grown-up modes of expression.
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  • In Copyright
  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department English and Comparative Literature.
  • Langbauer, Laurie
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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