University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Little Monsters: Anxiety, Austerity and the Monstrous Child in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child

Arnold, Lucy ORCID: (2019) Little Monsters: Anxiety, Austerity and the Monstrous Child in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child. In: Monsters: An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project, 1st-2nd December 2019, Prague. (Unpublished)

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'Monsters are our children' claims Jeffrey Cohen in his 2002 book Monster Theory and from Caliban's monstrous hybridity in The Tempest through Victor Frankenstein's parentless Creature, to the diabolical Damian of Richard Donner's film The Omen (1976), the image of the monstrous child has recurred culturally with daemonic persistence. These monstrous progeny articulate a range of anxieties particular to their historical moment; anxieties about reproduction and reproductive technology, about responsibility and futurity.

In this paper I argue that the abandoned, neglected or unwanted child in the contemporary moment is frequently inflected as monstrous, a monstrosity which articulates to a contemporary reader a terror of lack generated by social policies defined by what John Quiggins has termed the 'zombie economics' of austerity. The hunger of the infant, its monomaniacal focus on the satisfaction of its own needs, emerges in contemporary cultural productions as the monstrously insatiable child, whose hunger terrifies or consumes their putative carers. This emergence is, I demonstrate, an inscription of a growing social sense of a scarcity of resources, both economic and emotional, a response to the fear that there is not 'enough' to go around.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach which brings together economic and political theory with a number of psychoanalytic models of infant-caregiver relationships, the paper offers a reading of three 'monstrous' children in contemporary novels: the apparent changeling which makes elusive appearances in Hilary Mantel's duology Every Day is Mother's Day (1985) and Vacant Possession (1986), the eponymous Ben of Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child (1989), and the vampire child Eli, of John Avjid Lindqvist's Let the Right One In (2004). Taken together these readings argue for an understanding of the monstrous child in contemporary culture as embodying the mutilation of social and physical bodies which result from policies of austerity, voicing our fears of scarcity through their horrifying hunger.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Doris Lessing, child, monster, Margaret Thatcher, austerity
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Lucy Arnold
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2022 14:19
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2022 14:19

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