children in literature

I still tip toe to the door and watch for my baby son’s breathing. It’s not that I’m paranoid or anything, it’s just something that a lot of new parents do. If I can’t see his chest rising and falling or hear the lovely rhythm of his breaths, I come right into the room and put my palm very lightly against his stomach. The feeling of his quiet breathing is so beautiful. It started me thinking of the books I’ve read in the past where children play a part, and how I would feel on reading them now I have my own son.

One that leaps immediately to mind is Rosshalde. A lot of Herman Hesse fans are not particularly fond of Rosshalde. It’s a quiet tale of an artist and his son, who suddenly becomes gravely ill. It’s not as cool as Steppenwolf, or as intellectual as the Glass Bead Game. Yet, for some reason, I found the moments with the little boy very real and still attach a feeling to them – of sunlight in the drowsy garden and a growing feeling of dread and heaviness around the boy’s illness. I absolutely couldn’t bear to read it now. There was something so terribly real about it.

Oliver Twist is a book I’ve read many times. Children play such a central part in it that I’m curious as to how I would read it now. Would I make it through the birth/deathbed scenes? Or would I be completely susceptible to his lavish sentimentalism? Then I wonder – could I have written Indigo after the birth of my son? No, definitely not. Have I become a pushover when it comes to children in literature? I’m afraid the answer might be yes. What happened to my sense of irony, my detachment when it comes to sentimental scenes of childhood? Gone. All gone.

And I don’t mind at all.

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4 thoughts on “children in literature

  1. My son is over four now, and I still sneak in his room and listen to him breathing! Everything changes when you have a child, it is really interesting that you point that out. The way you experience literature, watch film, it all becomes much more emotionally vivid somehow. It is surprising as looking back it is not as if I was cold and emotionless before I had him!

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  2. watching the news became unbearable when he was a newborn – just couldn’t take any bad news stories about babies. Have settled down a little bit now …

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  3. The book this brings to mind for me is Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road.” I’ve heard some people say that, as parents, they simply can’t bring themselves to read/watch it. It’s not an easy book by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely a powerful one.

    I didn’t like Oliver Twist. Dickens didn’t give him a strong enough personality to make me care about him. A lot of his protagonists are so passive that they seem to just dissolve into the characters that surround them, and he’s one.

    I have huge soft spot for the Lowood story at the beginning of Jane Eyre; especially given that it was based on real events.

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    • agreed re Oliver Twist – the Artful Dodger was much more engaging! Yes, I found the film of The Road almost unbearable – the performances were too good. I’m reading the Crossing at the moment and then will need a bit of a Cormac break. You spend the whole time waiting for things to go suddenly and horribly wrong…

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