“Overthinking It in the Hundred Acre Wood”
In 1934, in the midst of an address at St. George’s Hospital Medical School, W. Langdon Brown, Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge University, took a moment to weigh in on the travesties of literary modernism, as embodied by T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, and Gertrude Stein, “one of the most notorious exponents of the ‘cocky-locky henny-penny’ style of writing, which was formerly reserved for the delectations of the nursery.” Brown was neither the first nor the last critic to call modernism childish, nor was he alone in succumbing to the delicious temptation to imitate the thing he decried. Reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928) against Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading (1934), among other texts, this talk argues that narratives of elementary language and literacy that centered on the figure of the child articulate an alternate mode of primitivism in modernist art and literature.
Natalia Cecire is a lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Sussex, specializing in experimentalism, history of science, media, childhood, and gender and sexuality studies. She has previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Emory University, and Yale University, and supports overthinking it.