The Silencing of Children’s Literature
The Case of Daniil Kharms and the Little Old Lady
The silencing of childhood continues in discrimination against children’s literature today. Yet children’s literature should be taken seriously not only for its own sake. Children’s literature can and should illuminate our understanding of literature for adults, while literature for adults can and should illuminate our understanding of children’s literature. Failure to recognize this mutualism risks silencing children’s literature and ghettoizing children’s literature research while impoverishing literary studies. To show the value of examining literature for all audiences together, this article examines the example of silenced Russian writer Daniil (Yuvachev) Kharms, a late avant-garde and absurdist writer who wrote in the 1920s and 1930s before his premature death as a result of repression by the Soviet regime. Like that of others who wrote for both adults and children, Kharms’s example illustrates the arbitrariness of subdividing the literary production of one individual into two mutually exclusive categories. In the case of Daniil Kharms, and others, literary scholarship benefits from examining an author’s oeuvre collectively and disregarding the bifurcation of audiences of which literary studies may at times be guilty. To show this, the present article focuses on the example of the little old lady, a marginal figure who recurs in Kharms’s writings regardless of audience, including in the children’s picturebook O tom kak starushka chernila pokupala (How a Little Old Lady Went Shopping for Ink, 1929) and the absurdist novella for adults “Starukha” (The Old Woman, 1939). Examining the old lady as an anachronistic wizened old muse and embodiment of writing itself across these boundaries in Kharms’s authorship illuminates the theme of silencing across both realms of the author’s oeuvre, since this figure, who stands for Kharms’s silenced authorship itself, embodies Kharms’s own marginalization, silencing, and censorship. Ultimately this article argues for the reunification of divided audiences to repair the fissure dividing the fields of children’s literature and literature for adults.
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