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Title: There and back again : imperial and national space in British children's fantasy
Author: Subramanian, Aishwarya
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 0812
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis examines the construction of space in a series of canonical British children's fantasy novels published over the period of decolonisation. The end of empire necessitated a dramatic shift in the understanding of what constituted the territorial boundaries of "Britain," and the location of national identity. Though the centrality of empire to nineteenth and early-twentieth century children's literature has been studied at length, until now little attention has been paid to the postimperial context of the twentieth-century British children's canon. Through an analysis of texts published between 1930 and 1980, the thesis argues that these novels utilise the fantasy genre to create heterotopic spaces-connected to but not of the dominant British space-within which changing ideas of "imperial" and "national" space can be negotiated. Organising the texts chronologically, I demonstrate a shift in focus over the period, from an outward-facing conception of British space as imperial space, to a domestic and inward-facing one. However, I trace the presence of both impulses ("there" and "back again") in each of the texts under discussion, showing that the two are often intertwined, and that the fantastic spaces analysed here frequently slip between or exist simultaneously in both registers. This "Janus-faced ambivalence," as Homi Bhabha has described it, creates an understanding of national space and thus national identity as unstable, contradictory, and in a constant state of negotiation that, I argue, underpins postimperial British children's literature. My introduction undertakes to provide critical and cultural contexts, and demonstrates the heterotopian functions of imperial space. The early chapters offer detailed examinations of individual works or series-Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (1930-1947), J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). I trace the spatial relations of the nineteenth-century adventure novel within these texts and analyse the functions of the heterotopic spaces created by them. Chapters Five and Six respond to a flowering of children's literature during the decades following the Second World War (the "second golden age") through an analysis of particular types of British spaces, namely the home and the natural landscape, in a number of contemporary works by major writers of the period, including Mary Norton, Penelope Lively, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner. Though these texts engage less directly with the end of empire than those discussed previously, through a series of contrapuntal readings I demonstrate the centrality to these novels of a changing discourse of nationhood and national space. Throughout the thesis I argue for the significance of children's literature to this shifting discourse of nationhood. In undertaking to fill the gap in scholarship on the relationship between empire, nation, and children's fantasy writing in the context of decolonisation, this thesis also contributes to larger contemporary debates about the construction of British national identity, imperial memory, and the place of immigrants in the national imaginary.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available