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Reviews Roni Natov. The Poetics of Childhood (New York and London: Roudedge, 2003), 289 pp. In The Poetics of Childhood, Roni Natov ranges very widely: from Songs of Innocence and Experience to the Harry Potterbooks, from classic works for children like The Windin the Willows and the Alice books to thoroughly adult books about children like TAf Old Curiosity Shop, LoHta, and The Poisonwood Bible, from the extraordinary diaries of seven-year-old Opal Whiteley to the philosophical enquiries of Rousseau; and from culturally seminal works like Wordsworm's Immortality Ode to nursery favourites like The Runaway Bunny. Yes, this book does engage what we call children's literature. But - more accurately - its province is the literature of childhood. What does Natov mean by the "Poetics of Childhood?" She is Wordsworthian in her focus on "Recollections of Eady Childhood," and she recognized the individual and idiosyncratic content of each reader's own childhood experiences. 'Tes, when expressed artistically through the eye and in the voice of childhood memory, they can resonate deeply for others. This is the poetics of childhood. It involves images that cluster around childhood, the voices and tones, the smells and textures that make up the larger landscape that recalls to us our eadiest states of mind" (2). The argument insists on this personal dimension of the subject, and on the basic and physical aspects of the recollected images that inform our reading of works about childhood. This frank connection of the personal with the generalized experience calls for both sincerity and tact: the author must be willing on occasion to present eady recollections of her own to flesh out those of the authors she deals with, but without becoming needlessly autobiographical. And in fact she is properly forthright when occasion requires. The tone of the book conveys that the critical analyses are deeply felt. Natov locates "the birth of children's literature in the nineteenth century" (49). The claim is of course disputable, but readers of Victorian Review are likely to entertain it charitably. Dickens and Carroll, after all, are indisputably major figures, bom of the Victorian period and of the literature of childhood. Natov presents Carroll's Alice as no appealing slip of a giri, but as "childchallenger to Victorian culture" (53). The worlds of Wonderland and 62volume 31 number 1 Reviews Looking-Glass are anti-pastorals, in which litde is charming or natural: the roses are painted, flowers in the garden are bittedy insulting, railway tickets are bigger than people, and a train's smoke "is worth a thousand pounds a puff." The wodd longed for - the fragrant garden, Edenic innocence, lost childhood — is glimpsed but never attained. What remains is dark, fallen, populated by the manically strident characters and surreal events that characterize Carroll's "tenuous and hollow vision of his culture" (55). The more sympathetic version of pastoral is Grahame's The Windin the Willows, and Natov is particulady sensitive on the hauntingpoetic rhythms and resonance of rapture unrecapturable surrounding the epiphanic episode of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Chapter 4 on 'The Dark Pastoral" examines the primeval forests of traditional fairy tales and the bizarre and mreatening milieux of the literary fairy tales of Hoffmann and Hans Andersen. It is here that Natov locates The Old Curiosity Shop, "the nightmare of the parenting child, whose very source of emotional life is also the very source of her deprivation" (149). The reading is an apt corrective to those who dismiss Nell as "a mawkish romanticization of the child victim" (151). The difference is that this context enables us to look terrifying through Nell's eyes rather than sentimentally ather. Though Dickens had not yet perfected his technique of getting inside the child's skin, as he does with David Copperfield and Pip and occasionally with Paul Dombey, at moments in Shop he succeeds brilliandy, and Nell's nightmare perception of the nightstalkinggrandfadier -robber, as Natov re-presents it, produces the pity and terror that qualify her as "Dickens's tragic protagonist of childhood." With its skilled evocation of the child in all of us, as incarnated in a remarkable range of texts, The Poetics of Childhood often touches us where...


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pp. 62-63
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