© 2016

Representations of Childhood in American Modernism


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. Michelle H. Phillips
    Pages 1-11
  3. Michelle H. Phillips
    Pages 13-35
  4. Michelle H. Phillips
    Pages 91-117
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 211-234

About this book


This book documents American modernism’s efforts to disenchant adult and child readers alike of the essentialist view of childhood as redemptive, originary, and universal. For James, Barnes, Du Bois, and Stein, the twentieth century’s move to position the child at the center of the self and society raised concerns about the shrinking value of maturity and prompted a critical response that imagined childhood and children’s narratives in ways virtually antagonistic to both. In this original study, Michelle H. Phillips argues that American modernism’s widespread critique of childhood led to some of the period’s most meaningful and most misunderstood experiments with interiority, narration, and children’s literature.


American modernism Childhood Children’s literature Late modernism black childhood innocence

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.FairfaxUSA

About the authors

Michelle H. Phillips is a Lecturer in the English Department at Howard University, USA. She works in the fields of modernism, African American literature, and childhood studies and has published in numerous journals including African American Review, Children’s Literature, and PMLA.

Bibliographic information


“Phillips is a scrupulous, imaginative reader, and her book re-orients the study of modernism in the United States in persuasive and interesting ways.  The handling of canonical texts—Turn of the Screw, Nightwood—is sharp, and Phillips brings into play lesser-known texts by Stein, Dubois, and others.  The book is also a particularly sophisticated addition to the scholarship that bridges queer critique and representations of the child.” (Peter Stoneley, Professor of English, University of Reading, UK and author of “Consumerism and American Girls’ Literature” and “A Queer History of the Ballet”)

“Phillips’s provocative study opens up new ways of thinking about American modernism, offering a truly innovative reading of this crucial moment in literary history. Arguing that modernists resisted the traditional iteration of childhood as insulated, inspirational, and sentimental, Phillips focuses critical attention instead on the modernist interrogation of the failures and limitations of childhood innocence. Recognizing childhood’s central position within the most experimental literary movement of the twentieth century, Phillips offers her readers a deeply researched, beautifully written, profoundly convincing reinvention of what we thought we knew about modernism’s attitude towards youth.” (Katharine Capshaw, Associate Professor of English, University of Connecticut, USA)

“A nuanced and illuminating account of a neglected topic. Phillips’s book enriches our understanding of American literary history by weaving together insightful analysis of texts for and about children by major modernist authors whose engagement with children’s literature and childhood has not been fully acknowledged.” (Marah Gubar, Associate Professor of Literature, MIT, USA)