From Freud to Nabakov and Woody to Blyton, Carrie Miller takes us on a guided tour of ten essential representations of children and childhood…
1. Nabokov’s Lolita
No-one has better managed to capture love in literature and induce a love of literature than Nabokov and the bumbling Humbert’s knowing coquette.
2. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall
I’ve always identified with Allen’s neurotic retelling of his early years, particularly the part where his mother takes him to the doctor because he’s stopped doing his homework due to an extreme case of existential nausea. He’s figured out the universe is expanding and so can’t see the point of anything in the face of the world’s imminent destruction. I’m with Woody on this one.
3. James Ellroy’s My Dark Places
There’s nothing hipper than a crime writer with a noir-ish, sex and death backstory riffing on how he was drug up. After his lush of a mother’s late-night date turned murderous, Ellroy was relieved to be turned over to his deadbeat dad. I can dig it.
4. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five
When I was little at my grandparents’ house and the smell of stale beer in the carpet and corned beef and white sauce on the stove was overwhelming, the Famous Five books allowed me to imagine I was off on an adventure stocked up with hard boiled eggs wrapped in wax paper and lashings of ginger beer. I wanted to be the tomboy George and do super fun boy things and have a dog named Timmy.
5. Todd Solondz’s Happiness
What can I say? Just watch this movie with a coming of age subplot that would’ve given John Hughes his heart attack. It’ll put you in a peculiar double bind: you’ll need to consult a therapist but will be put off ever doing so.
6. Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Children
One of the greatest paintings by one of the greatest painters, this work will do exactly what a painting should: hold your attention, and for a very long time. One of the series of his ‘Black Paintings’ which were rendered directly onto the artist’s wall in his own villa where he was alone, sick and disturbed. Unhinged by the senselessness of man and tired of living he managed to conjure from his subconscious some of the darkest visions ever executed in Western art history.
7. Rousseau’s Confessions
More than your average autobiography in that it manages to reveal how an entire philosophical worldview is developed in and through the lived experience of a particular person. His various pre-pubescent sexual or quasi-sexual experiences such as urinating in a neighbour’s cooking pot or being beaten by a favourite nanny more than twice his age read like Benny Hill scripts today, casting new light on his political treatise which influenced both the French and American Revolutions.
8. The Exorcist
As a wayward child myself, I like to read this story of the demonic possession of a young girl as a metaphor for the Freudian kick I would have got out of watching my mother slowly going insane as my subconscious unleashed its fury at her narcissistic desire to dominate and discipline me as an extension of her ideal self.
9. Freud’s On Sexuality
One of his great insights was one that moral panic merchants and, let’s face it, most of the rest of us grown ups, don’t want to admit to: children are sexual beings from the get go. I’m less convinced that I coveted daddy’s dangly bits but know Woody Allen was right when he said “Oedipus wrecks”.
10. When Kids Kill by Johnathan Paul
This book is supposed to be a measured, sociological study that goes behind the sensationalist tabloid headlines about kiddies who commit the ultimate crime. But that’s not why I like it. The idea of children seeking revenge for their rotten childhoods is just a good bit of sleazy entertainment.