In this classic essay, Vernon Lee shows us how life and discovery are phenomena that occur while we are busy running after trains. Lee (1856-1935), a member of the Aesthetic Movement, lived long before our current digital age of high tech toys, but she nevertheless already realized its implications. As she wrote in one of her essays:
There is an unlucky tendency … to allow every new invention to add to life’s complications, and every new power to increase life’s hustling; so that, unless we can dominate the mischief, we are really the worse off instead of the better.
We like to imagine we live in liberal times, and yet it’s hard to imagine an era when it was easier to “épater les bourgeois” than it is today. This particularly applies to children’s literature, which has as many do’s and don’t’s as it ever had, just in other places. Could the original “Pippi Longstocking” be published today? Perhaps, but I doubt it would have become a bestseller, nor that it would have found a place in virtually every school library in the world – and not only because of the allegedly offensive language. So while subversive children’s authors make fans among their target audience, they don’t always make friends in the adult world, as the hero of tonight’s story finds out – much to his own amusement.