Childhood in the Contemporary English Novel  book cover
1st Edition

Childhood in the Contemporary English Novel

ISBN 9780367361938
Published October 25, 2019 by Routledge
232 Pages

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Book Description

Since the 1980s novels about childhood for adults have been a booming genre within the contemporary British literary market. Childhood in the Contemporary English Novel offers the first comprehensive study of this literary trend. Assembling analyses of key works by Ian McEwan, Doris Lessing, P. D. James, Nick Hornby, Sarah Moss and Stephen Kelman and situating them in their cultural and political contexts, Sandra Dinter uncovers both the reasons for the current popularity of such fiction and the theoretical shift that distinguishes it from earlier literary epochs. The book’s central argument is that the contemporary English novel draws on the constructivist paradigm shift that revolutionised the academic study of childhood several decades ago. Contemporary works of fiction, Dinter argues, depart from the notion of childhood as a naturally given phase of life and examine the agents, interests and conflicts involved in its cultural production. Dinter also considers the limits of this new theoretical impetus, observing that authors and scholars alike, even when they claim to conceive of childhood as a construct, do not always give up on the idea of its ‘natural’ core. Accordingly, this book reconstructs how the English novel between the 1980s and the 2010s oscillates between an acknowledgment of constructivism and an endorsement of childhood as the last irrevocable quintessence of humanity. In doing so, it successfully extends the literary and cultural history of childhood to the immediate present.

Table of Contents


1 The Rise of the Contemporary Childhood Novel: Introduction

2 Dismantling Constructivisms of Childhood

3 Constructions of Childhood in Late Modern England, 1980s–2010s

4 Approaching Childhood as a Construct: Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time (1987)

5 Radical Constructivism in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (1988)

6 The Constructed Child as a Counter Model: P. D. James’s The Children of Men (1992)

7 Performing Childhood in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy (1998)

8 Historiographical Reflections on Childhood in Sarah Moss’s Night Waking (2011)

9 The Limits of Constructivism in Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English (2011)

10 Epilogue


Appendix: A Chronology of Anglophone Childhood Novels since 1979

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Sandra Dinter is Lecturer in English Literature and Culture at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuermberg in Germany. Her specialisms include contemporary British fiction, constructions of childhood, neo-Victorian studies and representations of space and mobility in nineteenth-century literature. Sandra is co-editor of Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Childhood in Contemporary Britain: Literature, Media and Society (Routledge, 2017). Her work has appeared in the peer-reviewed journals Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Neo-Victorian Studies and Anglia: Journal of English Philology.