“To Be Boy Eternal”: Locating the Child in the Literature and Criticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson
By Dr Krissie West
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Krissie West
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Dr Krissie West who passed her PhD viva on 10-05-2016 with her thesis“To be boy eternal”: Locating the Child in the Literature and Criticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. External Examiner: Professor Peter Buse (Kingston University), Internal Examiner: Professor Peter Stoneley. Supervisor Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein.
Abstract of thesis
This thesis considers Ralph Waldo Emerson’s question, in ‘Nature’, of ‘What is a Child?’, as it applies to his own work and that of his critics. Through an approach that seeks to destabilize ‘child’ as a known and fixed term, I consider how criticism of the child in Emerson’s works has been limited in scope and in readings of the child that take place solely in terms of Emerson’s own biography, in particular via the poem ‘Threnody’ and the essay ‘Experience’.
It also considers readings of absence as constructed by the critics and read in terms of archive, where I also consider the status and valuing of texts in what Jacques Derrida constructs as the ‘institutional passage from the private to the public’. Absence is also considered in the chapter on grief and reading the dead child, which tracks critical readings of ‘Threnody’ and ‘Experience’ as what critics construct as ‘the work of grief’, and considers the child as body and as ‘boy eternal’.
This thesis also reads claims to ‘child’ in terms of value, property and possession in critical works on Emerson and on the child in the nineteenth century. This section concludes with a reading of ‘child’ in terms of location, to consider how criticism locates the child and also how the child is located by location itself.
In the second section, I look at a number of Emerson’s works in order to consider what I read as a constant relocating of the child as Emerson negotiates the boundaries between childhood and manhood, youth and age, and continues to ask of his texts, ‘What is a child?’. I consider how the child is continually located by critics as the ‘peripheral child’ in Emerson’s works, and look at how the child might be relocated within wider Emersonian studies.
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