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Ekstein, R. (1978). Childhood Autism, Its Process, as Seen in a Victorian Fairy Tale. Am. Imago, 35(1-2):124-145.

(1978). American Imago, 35(1-2):124-145

Childhood Autism, Its Process, as Seen in a Victorian Fairy Tale

Rudolf Ekstein, Ph.D.

Lucy Lane Clifford published a fairy tale, “Wooden Tony,” early in 1892 in a collection entitled The Last Touches and Other Stories. Mrs. Clifford was a British novelist and dramatist, but also wrote a number of books for children. The story of concern to us was published in one of her contributions. Recently, this story has been republished by Jonathan Cott in his volume Beyond the Looking Glass, a collection of fairy tales and fantasy from the Victorian era. For a number of years, I used fairy-tale material with clinicians and educators for the purpose of stimulating their awareness of “the truth behind the fairy tale.” This particular fairy tale, previously unknown to me, and used spontaneously during one of these seminars, turned out to be a great surprise.

I wanted to acquaint the seminar members with the kind of material used for children in the Victorian era, and I discovered here a fascinating story which permits one to enter the life and thus the inner world of a deeply disturbed child. Was the author using this tale to describe a painful personal experience, overcoming the pain and agony by using the fairy tale as a distancing device to describe something very near as happening far away in another country? Or was she perhaps the objective observer who had seen such children and wanted to share the child's as well as the parents'pain with us? Is she observing others or does she indirectly give us autobiographical material? We do not know. Perhaps, in following our own clinical and research interests, we read into the story more than is warranted.

The story was written to entertain children; it was not meant to teach us about the risky inner world of a child.

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