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Anthony Browne and the cultural capital of classic fairy tales

Hateley, Erica (2009) Anthony Browne and the cultural capital of classic fairy tales. In 8th Biennial Conference on Modern Critical Approaches to Children's Literature, 26-28 March 2009, Nashville. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Prolific British author/illustrator Anthony Browne both participates in the classic fairy-tale tradition and appropriates its cultural capital, ultimately undertaking a process of self-canonisation alongside the dissemination of fairy tales. In reading Browne’s Hansel and Gretel (1981), The Tunnel (1989) and Into the Forest (2004), a trajectory emerges that moves from broadly intertextual to more exclusively self-referential modes of representation which reward readers of “Anthony Browne”, rather than readers of “fairy tales”. All three books depict ‘babes in the woods’ stories wherein child characters must negotiate some form of threat outside the home in order to return home safely. Thus, they represent childhood agency. However, these visions of agency are ultimately subordinated to logics of capital, which means that child readers of Browne’s fairy-tale books are overtly invited to identify with children who act, but are interpellated as privileged if they ‘know’.

Bourdieu’s model of ‘cultural capital’ offers a lens for considering Browne’s production of ‘value’ for his own works within a broader cultural landscape which privileges literary fairy tales as a register of juvenile cultural competency. If cultural capital can be formulated most simply as the symbolic exchange value of approved modes of knowing and being, it is clearly helpful when trying to unpack logics of meaning within heavily intertextual or citational texts. It is also helpful thinking about what kinds of stories we as a culture choose to disseminate, choose to privilege, or choose to suppress.

Zipes notes of fairy tales that, “the genre itself becomes a kind of institute that is involved in the socialization and acculturation of readers” (22). He elaborates that, “We initiate readers and expect them to learn the fairy-tale code as part of our responsibility in the civilizing process” (Zipes 29), so it is little wonder that Tatar describes fairy tales as “a vital part of our cultural capital” (xix). Although Browne is clearly interested in literary fairy tales, the most obvious strategies of self-canonisation take place in Browne’s work not in words but in pictures: hidden in plain sight, as illustration becomes self-reflexive citation.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 39103
Item Type: Conference Paper
Keywords: children's literature
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Literary Studies not elsewhere classified (200599)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Past > Schools > School of Cultural & Language Studies in Education
Deposited On: 09 Dec 2010 13:10
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2010 13:10

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