Dangerous Children: On Seven Novels and a Story (Hardcover)
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Gross explores our complex fascination with uncanny children in works of fiction.
Ranging from Victorian to modern works—Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, Franz Kafka’s “The Cares of a Family Man,” Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica, Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—Kenneth Gross’s book delves into stories that center around the figure of a strange and dangerous child.
Whether written for adults or child readers, or both at once, these stories all show us odd, even frightening visions of innocence. We see these children’s uncanny powers of speech, knowledge, and play, as well as their nonsense and violence. And, in the tales, these child-lives keep changing shape. These are children who are often endangered as much as dangerous, haunted as well as haunting. They speak for lost and unknown childhoods. In looking at these narratives, Gross traces the reader’s thrill of companionship with these unpredictable, often solitary creatures—children curious about the adult world, who while not accommodating its rules, fall into ever more troubling conversations with adult fears and desires. This book asks how such imaginary children, objects of wonder, challenge our ways of seeing the world, our measures of innocence and experience, and our understanding of time and memory.
About the Author
Kenneth Gross’s books include The Dream of the Moving Statue, Shakespeare’s Noise, Shylock is Shakespeare, and Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life, which won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. A former fellow of the Guggenheim and Bogliasco Foundations, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Bellagio Study Center, and the American Academy in Berlin, he teaches English at the University of Rochester.
"An original spin on literary criticism."
— Publishers Weekly
“In his absorbing short study . . . Gross offers an extraordinary account of a certain form of uncanny childhood.”
— Times Literary Supplement
"Lovely and completely idiosyncratic . . . [Gross] ruminates upon eight very strange fictional children, ranging from Lewis Carroll’s Alice to Nabokov’s Lolita. Read alongside one another, they . . . allow us to see things anew: silence and speech, subjecthood and objecthood, sense and nonsense. Gross’s thinking is subtle and stylish.'"
“A series of startling insights and evocations, Dangerous Children reveals just how uncanny and enigmatic children can be. In eight really quite brilliantly subtle chapters Gross shows us, improbably, that we have never really been curious enough about childhood.”
— Adam Phillips, author of On Getting Better
“This exhilarating, risk-taking study draws together children figured in disparate writers and transfigures our reading of them. Lewis Carroll and Kafka, Elizabeth Bowen and Richard Hughes, Nabokov and Henry James, Collodi and Barrie, all generate dangerous children who live between play and death. Gross brilliantly conveys their mystery.”
— Gillian Beer, author of Alice in Space: The Sideways Victorian World of Lewis Carroll
“Gross doesn’t call his children dangerous for nothing. From Carroll’s Alice to Collodi’s Pinocchio and Nabokov’s Lolita, they are all fictional and therefore cannot die. They are also especially well equipped, in this subtle analysis, to suffer and explore the dangers of innocence entangled in knowledge. As the text reminds us, it was very clear to the heroine of What Maisie Knew that she was not supposed to know things. The book is a wonderful read on many accounts, not least because its apparently pastoral topic becomes so eerie.”
— Michael Wood, author of Yeats and Violence