Macquarie University
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Little People in British Children's Books during the Cold War

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posted on 2024-02-28, 02:57 authored by Ursula Dubosarksy

This is a non-traditional thesis, comprising a research component and a creative component.

The research component is a study of works of British children's fiction published in the period 1945 to 1963 which all feature characters who, while otherwise being more or less ordinary human beings, are very small. A little person in art inevitably carries a variety of metaphoric and sometimes allegoric connotations, as found both in the recurring motif of the frequently magical little person in folk culture across the centuries and most famously in formal literature by Johnathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726). In these mid-twentieth century works for children by T H White, Mary Norton, Rumer Godden and Helen Clare/Pauline Clarke, however, I argue that the post-1945 period of publication pivotally focused the metaphor so that the little person can be read as representing the perils and contradictions of belonging to a literal minority group within a dominant big culture. The little people here are versions of refugees diminished and displaced by trauma of war and persecution, standing like Paddington Bear on railway platforms, homeless, rootless and culturally anxious. The innocuous and fantastic miniature human becomes an almost secret metaphor to describe the consequences of war in the language and symbolism of children, and far more freely and indeed sometimes more grimly than writers of explicit war stories for children of the period.

The creative component is a novel, The Red Shoe, published by Allen & Unwin (2006). It concerns a family of three young daughters in Sydney in 1954, set during an event known as the "Petrov Affair", when Soviet spies Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov defected to Australia in a sudden flare of international Cold War publicity. The novel is linked to the research component by the period of its setting, its exploration of the meaning of public political events in the private lives of children, and by featuring a little person, an insidious individual named Floreal. In my novel, however, Floreal is more oppressive than oppressed, embodying less his minority status than those disturbing aspects of creativity which all the texts in the study touch on, most fully and explicitly in Clarke's The Twelve and the Genii (1962), in which the little people, as playthings of children, are conduits or instruments of creative expression over which the creator appears at times to have little of no control. It was this reading of the metaphor which had for me, as a creative writer, the most particularly vivid and unsettling attraction.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction -- PART ONE: Lilliputans and Borrowers -- Chapter 2: T H White's Mistress Masham's Repose (1946) -- Chapter 3: Mary Norton's Borrowers Series -- PART TWO: Rumer Godden's Doll Stories -- Chapter 4 -- PART THREE: In the service of the dream: the dolls and soldiers of Helen Clare and Pauline Clarke -- Chapter 5 -- Conclusion -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award



Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




145 pages