“Everything’s a story” : orphanhood, trauma, and narrative in twentieth-century fiction.


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Orphaned characters abound in twentieth-century fiction, but critical studies of the significance of orphanhood are few and far between. Moreover, those that do exist fail to recognize the traumatic import of the orphaned experience, reading orphaned characters as historically or narrativally important with little consideration of the psychological effect of their separation from their biological parents. In order to address that gap in criticism, this study identifies the traumatic nature of the orphan experience as established by attachment theory, arguing that literary orphanhood demonstrates the significance of narrative as a means of overcoming traumatic experience. The chapters in this study consider the significance of orphanhood as traumatic experience in a variety of works. Chapter One examines the structure of children’s orphan stories in France Hodgson Burnet’s A Little Princess, C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, and Katherine Patterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins. Chapter Two examines gender differences in depictions of orphaned characters in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, E. M. Forster’s Howards End, Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins, and J. D. Salinger’s “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor.” Chapters Four and Five consider orphaned characters in specific, American contexts, examining orphanhood in the American landscape in Gene Stratton-Porter’s Freckles and Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, and orphanhood in southern gothic literature in Eudora Welty’s “Moon Lake” and Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger” and The Violent Bear It Away. Through these readings, this study shows how early- to mid-twentieth-century orphan stories alternately familiarize and defamiliarize the orphaned experience. More specifically, it argues that literary orphanhood both magnifies the human experience, providing readers of all ages with a means by which they can distance themselves from, reflect upon, and have hope for their own state; and others those who have been orphaned, emphasizing the difference between the experience of being raised in a biological family and the experience of the orphan. In every case, this study provides new readings of the novels and stories explored therein, demonstrating the importance of seeing fictional and real-world orphans as affected though not determined by their traumatic past.



Orphan. Trauma. Narrative. Imagination. Otherness. Family.