Who is the proper occupant of the nursery? The obvious answer is the child, and not an archive, a seductive troll-princess, or poor fosterlings. Nevertheless, characters in Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, and Little Eyolf intend to host these improper occupants in their children’s rooms. Dr. Gunn calls these dramas ‘the empty nursery plays’ because they all describe rooms intended for offspring, as well as characters’ plans for refilling that space. One might expect nurseries to provide an ideal setting for a realist playwright to dramatize contemporary problems. Rather than mattering to Ibsen in terms of naturalist detail or explicit social critique, however, they are reserved for the maintenance of characters’ fears and expectations concerning the future. Empty Nurseries, Queer Occupants intervenes in scholarly debates in child studies by arguing that the empty bourgeois nursery is a better symbol for innocence than the child. Here, ‘emptiness’ refers to the common construction of the child as blank and latent. In Ibsen, the child is also doomed or deceased, and thus essentially absent, but nurseries persist as spaces of memorialization and potential alike. Nurseries also gesture toward the domains of childhood and women’s labor, from birth to domestic service. ‘Bourgeois nursery’ points to the classed construction of innocence and to the more materialist aspects of this book, which inform our understanding of domesticity and family in the West and uncover a set of reproductive connotations broader than ‘the innocent child’ can convey.
Prologue: A Nursery at the Museum
Introduction: Ibsen’s Empty Nurseries
Chapter One: Endless Aunts, Endless Books: The Future According to Hedda Gabler
Chapter Two: Age is Just a Number: Strange Calculations in The Master Builder
Chapter Three: A Dead Child Cannot Look Back: Lost Boys in Little Eyolf
Chapter Four: Unfaithful Authenticity: Going Backstage in the Bourgeois Home
This series recognizes and supports innovative work on the child and on literature for children and adolescents that informs teaching and engages with current and emerging debates in the field. Proposals are welcome for interdisciplinary and comparative studies by humanities scholars working in a variety of fields, including literature; book history, periodicals history, and print culture and the sociology of texts; theater, film, musicology, and performance studies; history, including the history of education; gender studies; art history and visual culture; cultural studies; and religion.
Topics might include, among other possibilities, how concepts and representations of the child have changed in response to adult concerns; postcolonial and transnational perspectives; "domestic imperialism" and the acculturation of the young within and across class and ethnic lines; the commercialization of childhood and children's bodies; views of young people as consumers and/or originators of culture; the child and religious discourse; children's and adolescents' self-representations; and adults' recollections of childhood.