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The feminine corpus in F. J. Child's collection of the English and Scottish popular ballads

By Gretchen Kay Lutz


The ballads examined here are from F. J. Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, the authoritative collection of ballads. Though definitions of the ballad vary, most agree that the ballad is an orally transmitted folksong that tells a story. The Child ballad collection has stood a solitary monument from its publication (1882-1894). In it Child brought together from manuscripts and printed sources all of the extant English and Scottish ballads that he regarded as authentic. Though Child's work itself was groundbreaking, exploring territory marginal to the sort of academic study making up his official duties as professor of English at Harvard, his collection soon became canonical, subjected to critical study as a sub-genre. Perhaps because Child himself died before he could write his essay on what the ballads were and what they meant, since Child's death, much of the critical work has been an attempt to fill in what was left undone by Child, that is, defining the ballad and analyzing the criteria by which Child made his choices. In more recent times, critical studies of Child's works have applied psychoanalytic and feminist critiques to selected ballads. Yet, no previous work has examined the relationship of Child himself to his collection. This work sets out to view the Child collection in terms of literary critical theory, showing that Child's collecting is an act of Lacanian paternity whereby the collector, attracted especially by the bodies of the female characters, is moved to bring all the ballads under his dominion yet is subverted in his desire for dominion as female characters present themselves in terms of "bodytalk." Chapter one shows Child's collecting as Lacanian paternity. Chapter two focuses on the presentation of women's bodies in the ballads, The final chapter shows that the women characters in selected ballads speak according to what critic Jane Burns terms "bodytalk.

Topics: Folklore, Music, English literature
Year: 1998
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