Reading Boyishly

Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott

Reading Boyishly

Book Pages: 536 Illustrations: 215 illustrations (32 in color) Published: January 2008

Author: Carol Mavor

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

An intricate text filled to the brim with connotations of desire, home, and childhood—nests, food, beds, birds, fairies, bits of string, ribbon, goodnight kisses, appetites sated and denied—Reading Boyishly is a story of mothers and sons, loss and longing, writing and photography. In this homage to four boyish men and one boy—J. M. Barrie, Roland Barthes, Marcel Proust, D. W. Winnicott, and the young photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue—Carol Mavor embraces what some have anxiously labeled an over-attachment to the mother. Here, the maternal is a cord (unsevered) to the night-light of boyish reading.

To “read boyishly” is to covet the mother’s body as a home both lost and never lost, to desire her as only a son can, as only a body that longs for, but will never become Mother, can. Nostalgia (from the Greek nostos = return to native land, and algos = suffering or grief) is at the heart of the labor of boyish reading, which suffers in its love affair with the mother. The writers and the photographer that Mavor lovingly considers are boyish readers par excellence: Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up; Barthes, the “professor of desire” who lived with or near his mother until her death; Proust, the modernist master of nostalgia; Winnicott, therapist to “good enough” mothers; and Lartigue, the child photographer whose images invoke ghostlike memories of a past that is at once comforting and painful.

Drawing attention to the interplay between writing and vision, Reading Boyishly is stuffed full with more than 200 images. At once delicate and powerful, the book is a meditation on the threads that unite mothers and sons and on the writers and artists who create from those threads art that captures an irretrievable past.


Reading Boyishly is a rewarding read with surprising insights into the lives of some very intriguing people.” — Simone O’Callaghan, Visual Studies

“[A] beautiful, deeply pleasurable, and thought-provoking new book. . . . The first thing to be said about it is that it is a beautiful material object. Like the typical French paperback, it has that distinctive, sensual, cream-colored cover; but its pages are neatly cut, its type-face is crisp and clean, and its hundreds of visual reproductions are exquisite. Just to hold this book and to thumb through it initially is to be reminded why no electronic text can ever hope to displace a book like this. . . . Reading boyishly, in the spirit of Barthes, Barrie, Proust and Winnicott—whether the reader is a mother or father or someone else—is like this, too. It's a matter of knowing when and how to let the child take over, to read in his own voice, to ask questions, and even to reject the book entirely. Reading boyishly is to create a safe and loving place where he or she can discover their own selves with the help a book. If that happens for the first time in the lap of a mother, father, or other loving adult, so much the better.” — Michael Payne, Daily Item

“A passionate study of nostalgic representations of the maternal in the artistic creations of five distinguished and famous—albeit boyish men. . . . Highly recommended for large and comprehensive literature collections, a good choice for public libraries, and essential for academic institutions.” — Library Journal

“[A]n endlessly charming book. . . . Reading Boyishly provides hours of enjoyment, provoking both thoughts and daydreams.” — Spencer Dew, Rain Taxi

“One of the best-looking books of the year, an extended homage to the discreet typography of Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980) and Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (1975).” — Brian Dillon, Frieze

“All at once philosophical, historical, biographical, psychoanalytical, scholarly and ‘novelesque’, this is an absolute monster romp through the incredibly intricate tapestry of Oedipal desire, maternal attachment, and nostalgia. . . . This book is a pleasure to hold and savour. Headings and quotes float vertically down the page at the beginning of each chapter making for both tasteful design and intrigue. An asset to any library—though to what section it belongs could prove to be quite a conundrum—this informative, poignant, hedonistic and reflective book is one to devour.” — Kathryn Adams, Leonardo Reviews

“I love Mavor’s book. I love even the way it looks and feels: a thick white block of fine paper, the text enhanced by different fonts, touches of sky-blue ink, and more than two hundred photographs. . . . [Reading Boyishly is] a feast of words and images intricately linked to each other like a cat’s cradle, constantly surprising, amusing, enlightening, and filling both eye and mind.” — Lucy Rollin, Children's Literature Association Quarterly

“My book of the year is Reading Boyishly by Carol Mavor. I have never read a book like it. It's a musing, poetic work, a meditation on the boyhoods of Roland Barthes, JM Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust and DW Winnicott. It sounds heavy and dry but my mind was set free to dance and flit by this thrilling mix of philosophy, photography, biography and much more. It touched something very deep in me about what it is to be a creative man.” — Grayson Perry, The Guardian

“Nostalgia is intertwined with scholarship in this text as Mavor’s work is a (re)search for this emotion in literature, art, and especially photography. With hedonistic pleasure, she offers exegetical indulgences and connections she has made in a lifetime of poring over texts, films, photographs, and other aspects of literary and visual culture. . . . Mavor effortlessly and purposefully crosses disciplines in Reading Boyishly. . . .” — William V. Ganis, Afterimage

“This is an enchanting homage to ‘four boyish men [writers J.M. Barrie and Marcel Proust, literary critic Roland Barthes, child analyst D.W. Winnicott] and one boy [photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue].’ It's also an embrace of what some have fretted about as an over-attachment to mothers.” — Rebecca Wigod, Vancouver Sun

"It is a sigh of relief, this book, a defense of things that make us feel guilty: nostalgia, apron strings, the ‘good-enough mother,’ the lost mother, the nest, the childhood home, the beauty of boys at play. . . . Food and kissing, eating and not eating, boredom and tenderness—Mavor's is a style to be savored." — Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"Sprightly, witty, distinctly unlabored, at times willfully unacademic. . . . Boys are potent now in Western cultures—arguably more so than ever. And, if Mavor has complicated our understanding of their appeal rather than clarified it, the effort is nevertheless to much interesting effect." — Richard Canning, Gay & Lesbian Review

"This is a sophisticated, conceptual exposition. . . . The book is unique, well researched, and visually stunning." — J. R. Mitrano, Choice

Reading Boyishly is as complete and mesmerizing a work of reflection on art, time, gender, and family (mothers anyhow) as I have ever seen. It is a remarkable and rare invitation to find ways to extend our nostalgia into a positive mode of being that does not close off the future at all but relocates it within desire.” — James R. Kincaid, author of Erotic Innocence

“From time to time a book comes along that totally changes the way we look at things in the humanities and does it less by manifestos than by quietly doing its work or singing its song in another voice. Anyone taking the time to look into Carol Mavor’s fabulous meditation on Edwardian culture and its discontents will not have to ponder such problems as the relation of history and literature, fact and fiction, the image and the text, reading and looking, past and present, and even nature and culture in abstract, theoretical ways. Carol Mavor has first dreamed what she has then deeply studied and then dreamed it again, for her readers. This book is performed rather than merely written. And it shows how to do a new kind of cultural historiography that renders most of the theoretical questions raised by postmodernism quite moot.” — Hayden White, University Professor of History of Consciousness, Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

“It is rare for such an informative book to be so evocative, and indeed for such a wide-ranging book to be at once so subtle and so precise. Reading Boyishly allows mothers and sons to be as close as they are—as close as they somewhere know themselves to be; and allows that this relationship is an aesthetic education of astounding possibilities. Carol Mavor gives the idea of close reading a new genealogy. She has written a marvelous book.” — Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst and author of Side Effects


Availability: In stock
Price: $32.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden and Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Anorectic Hedonism: A Reader’s Guide to Reading Boyishly; Novel or a Philosophical Study? Am I a Novelist? 1

1. My Book Has a Disease 23

2. Winnicott’s ABCs and String Boy 57

3. Splitting: The Unmaking of Childhood and Home 77

4. Pulling Ribbons from Mouths: Roland Barthe’s Umbilical Referent 129

5. Nesting: The Boyish Labor of J.M. Barrie 163

6. Childhood Swallows: Lartigue, Proust, and a Little Wilde 253

7. Mouth Wide Open for Proust: “A Sort of Puberty of Sorrow” 315

8. Soufflé/Souffle 349

9. Kissing Time 367

10. Beautiful, Boring, and Blue: The Fullness of Proust’s Search and Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman 397

Conclusion. Boys: “To Think a Part of One’s Body” 433

Illustrations 441

Index 519
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3962-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3886-4
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