“In the Beginning was the Word”?: Quoting God and constructing the Child Reader in contemporary retellings of biblical narratives for children
by Dr Elisabeth Eldridge
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Elisabeth Eldridge
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Elisabeth Eldridge for completing her PhD and viva on 22-05-2007 with her thesis on ‘”In the Beginning was the Word”?: Quoting God and constructing the Child Reader in contemporary retellings of biblical narratives for children’. Supervisor: Dr Sue Walsh. Viva External examiner: Dr Josie Dolan, University of the West of England, Internal examiner: Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein.
Abstract of thesis
This thesis explores the relation of authorship and authority to notions of intertextuality in a selection of contemporary texts for children which engage with ideas of spirituality and the bible. It takes Daniela Caselli’s theorizing of intertextuality in her Beckett’s Dantes. Intertextuality in the fiction and criticism (2005) as a foundation for its understanding of intertextual studies, and uses this as a starting point for examining biblical intertexts and retellings of biblical narrative. It questions assumptions about source texts and origins in order to explore the implications of instances of intertextuality and associates these with ideas about God as origin. It further uses Nicholas Royle’s arguments on the notion of narrative perspectives proposed in The Uncanny (2002), wherein he posits that there can never be a unified ”point of view” or omniscient perspective within a narration but that, rather, narration consists of separate positions.
This thesis follows the work of Jacqueline Rose in her The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984) in its reading of childhood as a construction and of how the texts discussed herein constitute the child and the child reader and thereby make these the focus of certain investments. It also utilizes James R. Kincaid’s theories on the eroticizing of the child in Child-Loving. The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (1992) in order to further discuss investment in the construction of child. The work of Martin Barker on the constitution of child readers and, in particular, on the notion of ”identification” further informs this thesis’s exploration of how the child is produced as a reader of spiritual text.
This thesis examines constructions of God in relation to notions of authority and authorship and suggests that these productions are subject to a suspicion of language which complicates ideas of the ”Word of God” and the ability of language to narrate and access God. It reads the positioning of God in relation to human kind as a template for models of reading that create a power dynamic whereby adults mediate spiritual texts for children from a position of privilege.
This is a study across different types of contemporary texts and genres and includes a series of interviews with Philip Pullman, along with criticism of his work and that of C. S. Lewis; Revolve (2003), a new testament text in the format of a teenage magazine; and Geraldine McCaughrean’s novel, Not the End of the World (2004). They all produce themselves as, or are in some way concerned with, retellings or refigurings of biblical narratives or with texts that allude to notions of spirituality or the bible. Close reading allows a suggestion of how the positions established within these texts negotiate ideas of God and truth within the concept of language. Constructions of God and bible are read as representing a notion of an absolute truth that has implications for how meaning is attributed in these texts.
This thesis also reflects on itself as a piece of research and interrogates the terms of its own argument in order to re-evaluate its approach to truth claims and notions of identity, self and the ”I”. It finally establishes itself as cultural criticism informed by deconstructionist theory, rather than as a deconstructive text.
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