As the introductory material for the conference states “Ours is a time of crises, it seems”.
But the twenty-first century is not unique in considering itself crises ridden.
If the twenty-first century’s fear is that of things coming to an end, the mid-nineteenth century mind was pre-occupied by what might come after that end.
This paper will consider the crisis of faith in the nineteenth century, and the extent to which contemporary writers of children’s fiction were dealing with the controversial issue of hell and eternal punishment in their popular books.
Lewis Carroll was, via his close friend and fellow writer George MacDonald, an associate of the theologian F. D. Maurice, whose radical reimagining of the meaning of eternity, challenged the Church’s stance on eternal punishment. Lewis Carroll himself, wrote a sermon on eternal punishment, and in his letters writes about his beliefs.
This paper will explore whether Alice is in Wonderland or Hell, what the book can tell us about the nineteenth century crisis of faith, what contemporary interpretations of Alice reveal about our beliefs about eternity, and whether Lewis Carroll has actually left us with a spiritual classic hidden in a children’s book.
The Eyes of a Child: Figuring Innocence and Authenticity in P.C. Jersild’s After the Flood and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
The presentation focuses on the figure of the child in two post-apocalyptic novels, the Swedish author P.C. Jersild’s Efter Floden (1982, trans. After the Flood) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). While children in post-apocalyptic narratives often naturally straddle the tensioned thematics of nostalgia and futurity, the figure of the child also connects to the issue of authenticity: first, through the child’s “natural” freedom from the ways of civilization, which also makes the child an “authentic” witness who perceives the post-apocalyptic condition (as it were) on its own terms; secondly, in the more abstract sense of representing humanity’s “new childhood”, which carries with it the hope of a future humanity that is less vile because more in touch with (its) nature. Both aspects evoke the ideal of innocence, whether epistemic or ethical, and carry heavy expectations and assumptions concerning human nature.
These aspects and ideals receive strikingly different treatments in Jersild’s and McCarthy’s novels. Both have at their center “children” born soon after the apocalypse, framed against father figures (the boy’s father in The Road, Edvin’s mentor Petsamo in After the Flood) whose partly pre-apocalyptic bearings reflect the reader’s relation to the novels’ post-apocalyptic realities. In The Road, the boy retains an aura of fundamental otherness, as the narrative is largely focalised through the father, while After the Flood employs its childlike (actually adult) protagonist Edvin as the first person narrator. The reader’s relationship to the two “children” is thus construed on markedly different terms, which also affects how the thematics of innocence, authenticity and human nature become variously articulated. A comparative analysis, I suggest, may both illuminate the novels’ core problematics and extract some general insights concerning today’s post-apocalyptic imagination.