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The Barn and the Beast: The Queerness of Child-Animal Figurations in Scandinavian Literature and Culture


This dissertation takes as its starting point my own fascination, as well as a broader cultural fascination, with what I call child-animal figurations. I use the phrase “child-animal figurations” to refer to the range of relationships and associations between children and animals that are as prevalent in art and literature as they are in everyday life. Though these figurations are often considered “natural,” this dissertation argues that child-animal figurations can be highly charged sites for testing the limits of development, subjectivity, power, and species. I make this argument through analysis of several examples of Scandinavian literature and a Finnish documentary film. Scandinavian literature and culture offer a rich context in which to test hypotheses about child-animal figurations, not least because children and “nature”—including animals—enjoy special statuses in the Nordic countries, both in the figural traditions and in contemporary social realities. Drawing on scholarship in children’s literature, childhood studies, animal studies, and queer studies, this dissertation suggests that Scandinavian child-animal figurations provide new and critical insight for how we interpret narratives, including the all-important narrative of how—or whether—to grow up.

The first chapter considers the critical relationship among childhood, animals, and citizenship in two canonical Scandinavian children’s texts. Drawing on Kathryn Bond Stockton’s notions of the “the child queered by innocence” and “sideways growth,” I argue the protagonists in these texts can be understood as queer child figures whose non-normative development, facilitated by the animal, presents a surprising deviation from the nation-building agendas otherwise laid out in the texts. The second chapter examines autobiographical works about childhood by three twentieth-century Norwegian authors, whose texts suggest that animals are not only good to think with but to remember with as well. I argue that the autobiographical child can be understood not only as a figure of the author’s interior or of her past, but also as a version of “sideways growth” (Stockton) in the form of a text. The third and final chapter engages with examples that test the limits of species and subjectivity, including Tove Jansson’s Moomin series, which I read through a posthumanist lens (against the grain of the humanism that dominates Jansson scholarship), and the documentary film Hobbyhorse Revolution, in which I read the Finnish girl on her hobbyhorse as a cyborg in the sense put forth by Donna Haraway. In concluding the dissertation, I argue that the common notion of the “competent child” does not go far enough in explaining what makes the Nordic child a fascinating figure, and I propose the figure of the Nordic queer child as a necessary complement to the “competent” or “autonomous” child.

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