This article explores the relations among childhood innocence, queerness, and nation-building in Rosemary Manning’s boarding school narrative, The Chinese Garden (1962). Recent scholarship by Lee Edelman and Kathryn Bond Stockton has questioned the innocence we invest in the figure of the child, and how this innocence has become a precondition for generating heteronormative models of nation-building and imagined futures. Analyzing the boarding school community in The Chinese Garden, this article examines how the figure of the child is used to confirm the compulsory narrative of nation-building even as it queers the very concepts of place and belonging. In the narrative, set in 1928, the year of the publication of The Well of Loneliness, the protagonist witnesses an erotic relationship between two girls without wanting to acknowledge what is happening; it examines both the yearning for innocence and a desire for sexual knowledge within a context of repressive normalization and antihomosexual panic. The Chinese Garden is also a fictional autobiography, foregrounding Manning’s own resistance to her pre-Stonewall historical present, and her fascination with the queer past.
Queer Reflections on Childhood, Boarding School, and the Nation in Rosemary Manning’s The Chinese Garden
Chris Roulston is professor in French studies and women’s studies and feminist research at the University of Western Ontario. She has published two monographs, Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: Richardson, Rousseau, and Laclos (1998) and Narrating Marriage in Eighteenth-Century England and France (2010), as well as articles in various journals, including most recently, Literature Compass, Journal of Lesbian Studies, Studies in English Literature, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.
Chris Roulston; Queer Reflections on Childhood, Boarding School, and the Nation in Rosemary Manning’s The Chinese Garden. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2019; 65 (4): 411–436. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7995623
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