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Literature and Aging - Redemptive Grandchildren, Animal Family Life, Orphans And Substitute Parents, Epic Adventures And Magical Transformations

age adult fiction children characters

Since the early 1970s, adult literature has been transformed, creating what Constance Rooke has called "a new paradigm of hope." Modern medicine has extended the life span while improving the later years. Editors, publishers, and authors have recognized that a sizable proportion of the reading and writing public is over sixty. A few writers, such as poet Virginia Adair and novelists Penelope Fitzgerald, Mary Wesley, and Molly Keane, have forged literary careers beginning in their sixties, seventies, or eighties. Ninety-five-year old poet Stanley Kunitz was appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress on 31 July, 2000. He signed three book contracts at the age of ninety-two. Others, such as Kingsley Amis, Elizabeth Spencer, Ellen Douglas, Toni Morrison, John Updike, David Lodge, Margaret Drabble, Pat Barker, and Gail Godwin, have continued professions begun in youth or midlife. No longer is it necessary for writers to exaggerate their youth, as Anzia Yezierska did in the 1920s and 1930s, in order to attract an audience. And as a result of expanded fictional careers older characters appear in adult novels more frequently, playing more varied roles than in earlier days. In many cases they are the chief protagonists of fiction.

In contrast, even as early as the nineteenth century, most stories composed primarily for children include older characters, who rarely dominate the plots but are subordinated to the child heroes. Many of these figures appear weak, greedy, or cruel (see Mangum, 2000). Such characters contribute to children's fear of aging, death, and the ugliness of old bodies. We must carefully analyze these negative depictions to avoid contributing to a mindless "age ideology," one that carelessly stigmatizes all stages of life, but especially midlife and old age (Gullette, 1997, 2000). At the same time positive examples of aging characters can be located in literature for the young, and, it is hoped, even play a healing role. This concern to overcome the barriers separating old and young will continue through the twenty-first century. Young readers still seek a safe space for themselves, to explore what it means to be a child in postindustrial society, and to discover in fiction evidence of warm human relationships that may well be missing in their daily lives. Since literature written for children shapes lifelong attitudes as much as adult fiction, both kinds need analysis.

The themes of children's literature pertinent to aging include the following: redemptive grandchildren, animal families, the search for parental substitutes, and epic heroes. Adult themes of aging involve: life crises and life review, retirement concerns, illness, mourning and death, and occasional instances of epic courage. Of course new trends in society affect the conventions of fiction, but several of the intergenerational themes in adult fiction have antique roots.

Living Arrangements - Historical Perspective, Types Of Living Arrangements, Housing For Semi-independent Older Persons, Dependent Older Adults [next] [back] Life-Span Theory of Control - Research about control striving and behavior

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about 6 years ago

In the article on ageing and literature, you list various well know names.

Could you include Diana Athill, who in 2009 won the Costa prize for memoir at 91. A busy writer at 80, I like to hear about these splendid people.

Marjorie Quarton