Kirara Akashi profile

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Kirara Akashi

University of Roehampton London (2023)


Dr Lisa Sainsbury


Edward Gorey’s Neo-Victorian Picturebooks: Unravelling the Dark Humours of Childhood Culture


This project investigates dark humour in children’s literature and childhood culture through its focus on the twentieth-century American writer, illustrator, and theatrical designer, Edward Gorey, and his Victorian-style picturebooks that depict violence and childhood death. Specifically, I will demonstrate how Gorey incorporates Victorian literary and theatrical humour into his transgressive picturebooks via conventions of the puppet show in order to identify them as children’s literature. I also demonstrate that his ambiguous endings frame postwar American notions of the moral complexity of childhood, challenging sentimentalised views of childhood innocence in some Victorian literature. This project is conducted via mixed methodology of historical research—drawing on Punch and Judy collections, Victorian children’s illustrated texts, and Edward Gorey’s archives—combined with literary critical analysis. This is the first large-scale, transatlantic, interdisciplinary investigation into humour as a crucial component of children’s literature, casting light on Gorey’s controversial picturebooks, which are rarely categorised as children’s books. Exploration of Gorey’s dynamic text-image relationship and his comically sadistic treatment of children develops scholarship on humour in children’s literature, which has been strangely under-researched despite its common associations with childhood culture. Moreover, interrogating the British-American dynamic reveals a simultaneous overlapping and divergence in manifestations of childhood humour. The transatlantic focus of this study yields new insights into neo-Victorian studies that is largely limited to the British social and cultural sphere, allowing for international reach. Furthermore, interpretative plurality of Gorey’s picturebooks reveals a reconsideration of constructions of childhood, blurring the line between books for adults and children. This project also reveals close relationships between children’s literature and theatrical culture through the lens of humour. By identifying Gorey’s picturebooks as children’s literature, this study offers a critical reconsideration of the wider field and extends the scope of children’s books.