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Contesting Childhood

Autobiography, Trauma, and Memory

Kate Douglas

Publication Year: 2010

Drawing on trauma and memory studies and theories of authorship and readership, Contesting Childhood offers commentary on the triumphs, trials, and tribulations that have shaped this genre. Kate Douglas examines the content of the narratives and the limits of their representations, as well as some of the ways in which autobiographies of youth have become politically important and influential. This study enables readers to discover how stories configure childhood within cultural memory and the public sphere.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This research was undertaken with the support of grants and awards from the University of Queensland and from Flinders University of South Australia. For permission to reproduce book covers, my sincere thanks to Doubleday, Fourth Estate, Fremantle Press, Granta, Hale and Iremonger, HarperCollins, Headline, Penguin, Picador, and Random House. ...

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1. Creating Childhood: Autobiography and Cultural Memory

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pp. 19-42

The autobiography of British feminist academic Lorna Sage—Bad Blood: A Memoir—was published in 2000, shortly before her death from emphysema at age fifty-seven in 2001. In Bad Blood, Sage recounts growing up in Shropshire in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite her adult success as a literary critic and author, in Bad Blood Sage writes exclusively about her childhood. ...

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2. Consuming Childhood: Buying and Selling the Autobiographical Child

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pp. 43-66

If you perused the autobiography or nonfi ction section of any bookshop during the 1990s and 2000s, you would inevitably meet the child’s gaze. An autobiography of childhood characteristically contains a photograph of the child on its cover. Often smiling, sometimes frowning, the child is commonly attractive but often shackled with a hairstyle and clothes that are unfashionable—underlining the child’s place in history. The child gazes ...

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3. Authoring Childhood: The Road to Recovery and Redemption

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pp. 67-83

In chapter 2 I began to explore the ways in which autobiographies of childhood construct a relationship between the autobiographical child and adult reader. Following on from this, in this chapter I explore the impact of the adult autobiographical author in the production and reception of autobiographies of childhood. The adult autobiographer constructs the child self, bringing the child back to life a generation on. To write an autobiography of ...

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4. Scripts for Remembering: Childhoods and Nostalgia

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pp. 84-105

In this study I have argued that autobiographies of childhood are driven by, and need to be read in terms of, a network of textual and contextual relationships. I have also argued that autobiographies of childhood are memory practices. In their initial presentation, these texts promise to tell us an individual’s experiences (and memories) of growing up within a particular cultural milieu. However, I have argued, through their representations and ...

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5. Scripts for Remembering: Traumatic Childhoods

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pp. 106-130

In the 1990s and 2000s, autobiography and trauma have gone hand in hand—with the publication of a plethora of child abuse survivor narratives. But what do autobiographers do with childhood trauma? What are the limits of traumatic representations in autobiographies of childhood, and what layers can autobiographers add to broader cultural understandings of childhood trauma? The previous chapters have revealed a diversity of traumatic ...

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6. Ethics: Writing About Child Abuse, Writing About Abusive Parents

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pp. 131-149

In the prologue to her autobiography of childhood Ugly: The True Story of a Loveless Childhood, Constance Briscoe describes a visit she made to Social Services when she was eleven years old. She asks the woman at the reception desk if she can book herself into a children’s home. The woman replies: “You cannot refer yourself to a children’s home, luvvie. You need to get your parents’ ...

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7. The Ethics of Reading: Witnessing Traumatic Childhoods

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pp. 150-169

Readership provides a further context for interpreting autobiographies of childhood. At other points in this book I have discussed the reader investments required of traumatic and nostalgic memories of childhood and the ways that readers are anticipated and addressed by autobiographies of childhood. Readers shape autobiographies of childhood as much as any ...

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Conclusion: Writing Childhood in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 170-180

This is an important time to be working on autobiographies of childhood. At the turn of the millennium, a number of autobiographies have emerged to challenge and consolidate dominant ways of thinking about childhood in the twentieth century. In Australia, Stolen Generations testimonies have produced a revolution in the way many Australians think about their own childhoods ...


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pp. 181-194

Works Cited

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pp. 195-209


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pp. 211-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549156
E-ISBN-10: 0813549159
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813546636
Print-ISBN-10: 081354663X

Page Count: 236
Illustrations: 15 photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies