Thursday 12th January 2017

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Jonathan

Barclay James Harvest

Circles in the sky
White as paper fly
Sound of seagulls crying fills the air
High above the lonely one is there
Jonathan he cares
To feel better
Like the passing wind
Swooping down again
Waitin’ for the sun to turn to night
Find him miles away in endless flight
Longing to be free
Telling you and me

Give me wings to fly
Tell me why, tell me why
The answer must be heard
And from a lonely bird
He’s giving us a reason to believe

See the painted silver sunlight on his wing
As he sails upon the wind and slowly skyward
Flying as to music you can hear him sing
Like the windsong on the breeze he seems to sigh

Give me wings to fly
Tell me why, tell me why
The answer must be heard
And from a lonely bird
He’s showing us the way we can be free

Inspired by the novel Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. The book, first published in Britain in 1972, was a kind of modern-day fable about self-imposed limitations, and used the allegory of a seagull breaking free from physical constraints to make its point.

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Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist.

Jim Elledge

Henry Darger was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Henry Darger Sr. and Rosa Fullman. Cook County records show he was born at home, located at 350 W. 24th Street. When he was four years old, his mother died of puerperal fever after giving birth to a daughter, who was given up for adoption; Henry Darger never knew his sister.

By Darger’s own report, his father was kind and reassuring to him and they lived together until 1900. In that year, the crippled and impoverished Darger Sr. was taken to St. Augustine’s Catholic Mission home and his son placed in a Catholic boys’ home. Darger Sr. died in 1905, and his son was institutionalized in the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln, Illinois, also called the Lincoln State School (today the Lincoln Developmental Center), with the diagnosis, according to Stephen Prokopoff, that “little Henry’s heart is not in the right place.” According to John MacGregor, the diagnosis was actually “self-abuse,” a euphemism for masturbation.

Darger himself felt that much of his problem was being able to see through adult lies and becoming a “smart-aleck” as a result, which often led to his being disciplined by teachers and ganged up on by classmates. He also went through a lengthy phase of feeling compelled to make strange noises (perhaps as a result of Tourette Syndrome) which irritated others. The Lincoln asylum’s practices included forced labor and severe punishments, which Darger would later seemingly incorporate into his writing. He later said that, to be fair, there were also good times at the asylum, he enjoyed some of the work, and he had friends as well as enemies. While he was there, he received word that his father had died. A series of attempted escapes ended successfully in 1908. The 16-year-old returned to Chicago and, with the help of his godmother, found menial employment in a Catholic hospital and in this fashion continued to support himself until his retirement in 1963.

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Except for a brief stint in the army during World War I, his life took on a pattern that seems to have varied little: he attended Mass daily, frequently returning for as many as five services; he collected and saved a bewildering array of trash from the streets; his dress was shabby, although he attempted to keep his clothes clean and mended; and he was largely solitary. His one close friend, William Schloeder, was of like mind on the subject of protecting abused and neglected children, and the pair proposed founding a “Children’s Protective Society” that would put such children up for adoption to loving families. Schloeder left Chicago sometime in the mid-1930s, but he and Darger stayed in touch through letters until Schloeder’s death in 1959. Darger biographer Jim Elledge speculates that Darger and Schloeder may have had a romantic relationship while Schloeder lived in Chicago.

In 1930, Darger settled into a second-floor room on Chicago’s North Side at 851 W. Webster Avenue in the Lincoln Park section of the city, near the DePaul University campus. It was in this room for the next 43 years that Darger would imagine and write his massive tomes (in addition to a 10-year daily weather journal and assorted diaries) until his death in April 1973 in St. Augustine’s Catholic Mission home (the same institution in which his father had died). In the last entry in his diary, he wrote: “January 1, 1971. I had a very poor nothing like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good new year, and now… I am very bitter but fortunately not revengeful, though I feel should be how I am…”

Darger is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois, in a plot called “The Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor Plot.” His headstone is inscribed “Artist” and “Protector of Children.”

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In the Realms of the Unreal

Elsie Paroubek, whose photograph inspired Darger to begin writing In the Realms of the Unreal.
In the Realms of the Unreal is a 15,145-page work bound in fifteen immense, densely typed volumes (with three of them consisting of several hundred illustrations, scroll-like watercolor paintings on paper derived from magazines and coloring books) created over six decades. Darger illustrated his stories using a technique of traced images cut from magazines and catalogues, arranged in large panoramic landscapes and painted in watercolours, some as large as 30 feet wide and painted on both sides. He wrote himself into the narrative as the children’s protector.

The large part of the book, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, follows the adventures of the daughters of Robert Vivian, seven princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia who assist a daring rebellion against the child slavery imposed by John Manley and the Glandelinians. Children take up arms in their own defense and are often slain in battle or viciously tortured by the Glandelinian overlords. The elaborate mythology includes the setting of a large planet, around which Earth orbits as a moon (where most people are Christian and mostly Catholic), and a species called the “Blengigomeneans” (or Blengins for short), gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human or part-human form, even disguising themselves as children. They are usually benevolent, but some Blengins are extremely suspicious of all humans, due to Glandelinian atrocities.

Once released from the asylum, Darger repeatedly attempted to adopt a child, but his efforts failed. Images of children often served as his inspiration, particularly a portrait from the Chicago Daily News from May 9, 1911: a five-year-old murder victim, named Elsie Paroubek. The girl had left home on April 8 of that year telling her mother she was going to visit her aunt around the corner from her home. She was last seen listening to an organ grinder with her cousins. Her body was found a month later in a sanitary district channel near the screen guards of the powerhouse at Lockport. An autopsy found she had probably been suffocated—not strangled, as is often stated in articles about Darger. Paroubek’s disappearance and murder, her funeral, and the subsequent investigation, were the subjects of a huge amount of coverage in the Daily News and other papers at the time.

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This newspaper photo was part of a growing personal archive of clippings Darger had been gathering. There is no indication that the murder or the news photo and article had any particular significance for Darger, until one day he could not find it. Writing in his journal at the time, he began to process this forfeiture of yet another child, lamenting that “the huge disaster and calamity” of his loss “will never be atoned for,” but “shall be avenged to the uttermost limit.” According to his autobiography, Darger believed the photo was among several items that were stolen when his locker at work was broken into. He never found his copy of the photograph again. Because he couldn’t remember the exact date of its publication, he couldn’t locate it in the newspaper archive. He carried out an elaborate series of novenas and other prayers for the picture to be returned.

The fictive war that was sparked by Darger’s loss of the newspaper photograph of the murdered girl, whose killer was never found, became Darger’s magnum opus. He had been working on some version of the novel before this time (he makes reference to an early draft which was also lost or stolen), but now it became an all-consuming creation.

In The Realms of the Unreal, Elsie is imagined as Annie Aronburg, the leader of the first child slave rebellion. “The assassination of the child labor rebel Annie Aronburg… was the most shocking child murder ever caused by the Glandelinian Government” and was the cause of the war. Through their sufferings, valiant deeds and exemplary holiness, the Vivian Girls are hoped to be able to help bring about a triumph of Christianity. Darger provided two endings to the story, one in which the Vivian Girls and Christianity are triumphant and another in which they are defeated and the godless Glandelinians reign.

Darger’s human figures were rendered largely by tracing, collage, or photo enlargement from popular magazines and children’s books (much of the “trash” he collected was old magazines and newspapers, which he clipped for source material). Some of his favorite figures were the Coppertone Girl and Little Annie Rooney. He is praised for his natural gift for composition and the brilliant use of colour in his watercolours. The images of daring escapes, mighty battles, and painful torture are reminiscent not only of epic films such as Birth of a Nation (which Darger might easily have seen) but of events in Catholic history; the text makes it clear that the child victims are heroic martyrs like the early saints. Art critic Michael Moon explains Darger’s images of tortured children in terms of popular Catholic culture and iconography. These included martyr pageants and Catholic comic books with detailed, often gory tales of innocent female victims.

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One idiosyncratic feature of Darger’s artwork is its apparent transgenderism. Many of his subjects which appear to be girls are shown to have penises when unclothed or partially clothed. Darger biographer Jim Elledge speculates that this represents a reflection of Darger’s own childhood issues with gender identity and homosexuality. Darger’s second novel, Crazy House, deals with these subjects more explicitly.

In a paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence, Darger wrote of children’s right “to play, to be happy, and to dream, the right to normal sleep of the night’s season, the right to an education, that we may have an equality of opportunity for developing all that are in us of mind and heart.”

Crazy House: Further Adventures in Chicago

A second work of fiction, provisionally titled Crazy House: Further Adventures in Chicago, contains over 10,000 handwritten pages. Written after The Realms, it takes that epic’s major characters—the seven Vivian sisters and their companion/secret brother, Penrod—and places them in Chicago, with the action unfolding during the same years as that of the earlier book. Begun in 1939, it is a tale of a house that is possessed by demons and haunted by ghosts, or has an evil consciousness of its own. Children disappear into the house and are later found brutally murdered. The Vivians and Penrod are sent to investigate and discover that the murders are the work of evil ghosts. The girls go about exorcising the place, but have to resort to arranging for a full-scale Holy Mass to be held in each room before the house is clean. They do this repeatedly, but it never works. The narrative ends mid-scene, with Darger having just been rescued from the Crazy House.

In 1968, Darger became interested in tracing some of his frustrations back to his childhood and began writing The History of My Life. Spanning eight volumes, the book only spends 206 pages detailing Darger’s early life before veering off into 4,672 pages of fiction about a huge twister called “Sweetie Pie,” probably based on memories of a tornado he had witnessed in 1908.

Darger’s landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, came across his work shortly before his death, a day after his birthday, on April 13, 1973. Nathan Lerner, an accomplished photographer whose long career the New York Times wrote “was inextricably bound up in the history of visual culture in Chicago,”[24] immediately recognized the artistic merit of Darger’s work. By this time Darger was in the Catholic mission St. Augustine’s, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, where his father had died.

The Lerners took charge of the Darger estate, publicizing his work and contributing to projects such as the 2004 documentary In the Realms of the Unreal. In cooperation with Kiyoko Lerner, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art dedicated the Henry Darger Room Collection in 2008 as part of its permanent collection. Darger has become internationally recognized thanks to the efforts of people who salvaged his oeuvre. After Nathan Lerner’s death in 1997, Kiyoko Lerner became the sole figure in charge of both her husband’s and Darger’s estates. The U.S. copyright representative for the Estate of Henry Darger and the Estate of Nathan Lerner is the Artists Rights Society.

Darger is today one of the most famous figures in the history of outsider art. At the Outsider Art Fair, held every January in New York City, and at auction, his work is among the highest-priced of any self-taught artist. The American Folk Art Museum, New York City, opened a Henry Darger Study Center in 2001. His work now commands upwards of $750,000.

The Moral Storm: Henry Darger’s Book of Weather Reports

He was right on the prediction of snow flurries and becoming very windy today, but the snow was very fine. He said little change in temperature but he was greatly wrong in that. It was 8 below, and 5 above was warmest. And he had said high in the 20s. He was right, though, on West to Northwest wind, but wrong on increasing to 18 to 28 miles per hour. It was between 30 and 40 miles per hour.

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From December 31, 1957 until December 31, 1967, the artist and writer Henry Darger (1892–1973) kept a series of six ring-binder notebooks with almost daily entries on the weather in his native Chicago. On the outside cover of the first book, Darger describes the project, with encyclopedic enthusiasm, as a “book of weather reports on temperatures, fair cloudy to clear skies, snow, rain, or summer storms, and winter snows and big blizzards—also the low temperatures of severe cold waves and hot spells of summer.”

Though generally short, the entries abound in peculiarities. Darger is concerned, for instance, as much with periods of continuous temperature as with shifts—”3 to 7 am 57″ (10/21/1958). Often up at 3am taking readings, Darger’s descriptive vocabulary also tends toward the moral and anthropomorphic: terms like “unsettled” and “threatening” are as common as “cool” or “hot.” Moreover, as the above epigraph suggests, the weatherman becomes a special figure. Darger’s notebooks can, in fact, frequently be read as an excruciatingly detailed moral account book of how well the weatherman was doing his job. The implications of this job (and Darger’s own self-imposed regulatory relation to it) come to take on a set of complex moral and allegorical senses. Nowhere is this more vivid than in Darger’s 15,000-page illustrated novel, In the Realms of the Unreal, where weather and its interpretation are crucial—at once quotidian and allegorical, scientific and divine.

As a preface to the epic struggle between the seven Vivian Girls and the satanic Glandelinians, the Realms begins with a climatic description of the edenic period in a province called Calverinia, where the Glandelinians will soon institute child slavery and thus bring about the wars with the Catholic nations in Darger’s world (1000 times the size of earth and with trillions of inhabitants): “There were never cold winters nor terrific windstorms nor anything to make people afraid.” But in the fashion of any good horror movie, such serenity serves only as a foil for the wild disruptions to follow. And it is precisely a storm that signals the end of this golden age. As in the Bible, then, part of the fall is a fall into weather, into atmosphere as mutable, and motivated by forces beyond one’s control.

Weather is humanized: a cloud can become “freakish in appearance,” and seem “to dissolve itself into something mysterious and fearful” attended by “sickening sulphurious smell in the air.” Moreover, his characters are weathermen. In one scene, after a 147-degree night in which the dogs howled continually, “Robert Vivian [father of the Vivian Girls] going near the beach of the southern sea shore, noticed a sudden change in atmosphere, and that the wind had changed to four directions in four minutes, then back to the south.” Equipped with internal barometers, Dargerian protagonists like Robert are especially perceptive of such shifts in atmospheric pressures. And they need to be, since climatic variations are Signs, Omens and Portents: “Ink-dark threatening clouds of fantastic colors and shape” spread “over the southwestern horizons, with amazing animation. Darker and darker became the ponderous globular avalanches of clouds, which though purple in color at first, became an inky hue or exactly looked like smoke, while a strange ominous booming roar was heard along the distant horizon in that direction.” Elsewhere Darger describes “clouds upon clouds that arose from a treacherous smudge along the rubbish under the snow, ignited by the fierce heat of the conflagration in the tree tops.” Terms like “inky” and “smudge” stand out, suggesting, perhaps, that while mechanically this particular firestorm may be almost impossible to imagine, Darger—positioned as both author and god—will have drawn it for us, and is now in part referring to his drawing.

That storms are often transparently linked to their graphic, moral creator does not, however, render them without impact. It is often precisely where Darger transcends or disrupts the vaguely plausible representation of weather that the most serious violence occurs: “Eddies of power and not wind, it seemed, grasped thousands of buildings and sent them careening into scattered piles of kindling.” Robert Vivian’s brother, Hanson, the Governor of Calverinia, loses his wife and daughter in the storms mentioned above. Nor does Robert escape unscathed: “I was literally blown out of my house and forced to turn some complete cartwheels, landed in a chicken house in a yard opposite my own home, which was torn to pieces, and its walls scattered about.” The force of the storm is compared to “missiles of a fierce and terrible invader.”

Despite such abuse, Darger’s characters seem to take pleasure in quasi-scientific meteorological classifications (and the occasions for inventing names afforded by them, which Darger rarely misses): “Robert noticed the action of the great typhoon clouds, and realized that it was a wild Spirian Tearian typhoon.” Darger and his characters also have a Poe-like interest in the transcendental aesthetics of natural disasters—”trees and meadows glowed with a weird and spectral green splendor.” Storms slow down the world, defamiliarizing the everyday, creating hallucinogenic dreamscapes: “Puffs of hot wind swept through the streets, and isolated heavy raindrops clattered like big hailstorms against the sides of the wooden houses, and made wet splotches on the sidewalk as big as a man’s head.”

Such strange, concrete images point to the world of Darger’s drawings, and to the larger ambitions of Realms. In some ways, Darger’s project can be imagined within the broadest tradition of Western religious painting: he wanted to make utterly palpable the moral universe he had invented. Realms was designed to overwhelm our senses. Narrative incidents were to be situated within complex atmospheres, so that drawings depicting violent struggles with the Glandelinians tend, for instance, to feature highly detailed, multi-colored inventories of foreground flowers, happy middle ground cottages and picket fences (jacked from coloring books), and tier upon tier of individualized cloud formations in the background, often complete with tentacles of lightning and foreboding black notches signaling oncoming storms. Even while tracing his clouds or collaging in conflagrations, Darger’s drawings seem to be reinventing a world with every line. Detailing dozens of escaping Calverinian girls navigating patches of burning forest during a firestorm, he seldom gets bored or generalizes.

And it is in this way that Darger’s pathological overtones, his obsessions, begin to place him in the elevated company of those painters who failed Western religious painting by allowing the need for palpable particularity, visualization, and atmosphere to overcome and obliterate the appropriate generality more frequently needed for the goals of moralizing narrative. By the early sixteenth century, the wealth of incident in medieval painting was seen, for instance, not only as messy and lacking in “realism,” but also as positively distracting from the biblical narratives to be inculcated. Even the pleasure in quotidian surfaces and complex compositions we find in late-fifteenth-century painting began to seem somehow beside the “point” in relation to the pared-down, psychologized works of Michelangelo and Raphael.

For Darger, moral anchoring points pop up now and again amid hundred-page descriptions of hurricanes, land battles and sweeping conflagrations: “Beautiful is the sun, which because of its wonderful splendor and radiance, was adored as a divine being by so many pagan nations. But more beautiful is the form of the Vivian Girls.” Realms is full of descriptions of characters breaking down when meeting, or even hearing about, the Vivian Girls. For most readers and viewers, though, it is this very gap between the simplistic moral rhetoric, a rhetoric of pathos and obligation, and the multivalent, pathological detail that makes Darger’s work so fascinating, and so disturbing. In “illustrating” his claims (I’m thinking here of his drawings, but one might make a related argument about his text), Darger invents a world whose psychotically proliferating detail—wearing outright its fascination with inventing new ways for grown-men marauders dressed in Civil War outfits to dismember little girls’ bodies—renders those very same claims intensely inadequate as an explanation of what one is presented with. This patient rendering of carnage is made all the more unsettling and bizarre by its placement within highly elaborated atmospheric and horticultural settings, which demonstrate Darger’s pleasure in cloud formations, lightning patterns, overflowing garden plots, happy diagrammatic houses, and verdant storybook hillsides.

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One rationale for Reports may have been as a break from the imaginative demands of Realms. Though Darger probably did not cease work on Realms during the ten-year climatic inquiry, one suspects that his long periods at the typewriter and behind the drafting board were punctuated by hourly trips to monitor the atmospheric equipment at his window. But Reports was no casual hobby or diversion: Darger shaped it into what we might now call a conceptual art project, lasting exactly ten years and concluding with the word “finished.” It thus gives a kind of narrative to the weather. And if we see Realms as one kind of visualization, we might in turn imagine Reports as a complementary exercise, one offering complete immersion in climatic consciousness.

At first Darger does not abbreviate anything, as though the exercise of painstakingly writing out the month and all of the verbs and prepositions inside the weather notation would prolong the very state of awareness he seems to be after. Even when writing extremely short entries, he uses a kind of longhand—”Lowest 0. Highest nine above” (1/20/1958). Eventually this formal convention settles into “Low” and “High.”

Despite his interest in sensory data, Darger’s book is not exactly a rumination on one’s experience of the weather. Only occasionally do sentences describing “a minute fall of light rain and wet snow,” (5/4/1958) “slight streaks of clouds in the evening” (9/13/1958) or “traces of cirrus cloud” (6/4/1963) even begin to suggest this role. Such a consciousness emerges to some extent in Darger’s frequent mention of practical concerns—that it was “almost impossible to walk because of ice on streets and sidewalks because of rain” or that on the next day “you at least could walk the streets” (2/10/1959). But perhaps the most luminous aspect of the weather is the frequent enigmas it opens: “Partly cloudy to clearing. Very Strange haze in the sky. Moon looked yellow green in sky” (8/28/1958). On June 7th, 1959 Darger noted a “Strange mysterious haze in the sky.” The following day we learn that the “mysterious haze [is] still thicker.”

Darger’s attraction to such enigmas seems linked to his prominent use of the word “threatening” as a fixed position on the weather spectrum: for anyone who has read a description of a storm in Realms, “overcast to threatening” takes on ominous overtones: “Saturday August 23 1958. Partly cloudy to threatening in the afternoon. A few drops of rain.” One of the crucial differences between narratives that use weather and the weather itself, though, is that “threats” do not inevitably foreshadow dramatic events. One wonders, therefore, how Darger felt about the frequent near-misses he notes: “Thunderstorm passes even northwest. No rain here” (5/17/58); “Two thunderstorms pass by without hitting” (7/13/58); or: “Threatening but no rain after all” (7/20/58). Thunder tends to get registered through its volume: “quite loud thunder, but rain only a sprinkle” (5/5/1959). If each passing storm system presents a structure of expectation, so, of course, does each season. Darger’s seasonal expectations range from the mundanely descriptive—”warm out of season,” or “below normal temperatures for this month of July”—to the moralizing: “Fickle Chilly May ‘Where the Season they call Spring?’ Eloped with old man Winter” (5/13/1959).

At the height of his enthusiasm for the project, Darger invents the monthly weather summary: “February was not so cold as January and had far less snow. But it was a bad month because it had two very bad freeze rains, and too much extremes of warm and cold. Very above normal warm weather between the cold. Fortunately no big snow storms so far this winter. How about this coming March?” Perhaps he sensed that the possible scales for such summaries were infinite, and retreated back to the day as a primary unit. In any case, the month summary of February 1959 seems to be the only one. It’s clear, however, that Darger did cross-reference and study his previous notations: “O worst storm since two years” he writes on June 25, 1959. And if one suspects this to be a casual, improvised claim, other observations suggest the breadth (and pathology) of Darger’s statistical cross-referencing: In January of 1963, Darger writes: “This was the first Friday we had at least two inches of snow. For all other Fridays since 1960 (no snow on these Fridays of 1959 until Friday Jan 11) extend back to 1959.”

The depth of Darger’s knowledge about his own project, and the character of his own retreat into the carefully fabricated world of his Chicago apartment, both suggest a strange relation to the tradition of Christian visualization and meditation, where withdrawal and focus are fundamental. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, for instance, offered a structured visualization (administered by priests to subjects on a month-long retreat) of sin, the life and passion of Christ, and the afterlife. By withdrawing, “one separates oneself from many friends and acquaintances as well as from distracting business in order to serve and praise God Our Lord.” One’s mind is “not divided amongst many things” and thus one is more capable of “drawing near to and reaching our Creator and Lord,” and thereby receiving “graces and gifts from His divine and supreme Goodness.”

More than a little receptive to such gifts, Darger turns the complicating subtexts of this project into a life practice and a kind of treatise. Interested in this gap between a moral project and its materialization, Roland Barthes points to “the mass of desire which animates [Spiritual Exercises]. The immediate force of this desire is to be read in the very materiality of the objects whose representation Ignatius calls for: places in their precise, complete dimensions, characters in their costumes, their attitudes, their actions, their actual words.” For Darger, the Ignatian month becomes 60-odd years. Christ splinters into seven little girls. Fascination with materiality motivates not merely the elaborate detail of the Realms, but the simultaneous project of immersing himself in the particularity of the weather. The goal of being responsible for recording a decade of weather may suggest something of the obsessive nature of Reports. Barthes continues: “The obsessional character of the Exercises blazes forth in the accounting passion transmitted to the [subject who performs the spiritual exercises]: as soon as an object, intellectual or imaginary, appears, it is broken up, divided, numbered. The accountancy is obsessional not only because it is infinite, but above all because it engenders its own errors: being a matter of accounting for his sins … the fact of accounting for them in a faulty way will in turn become an error that must be added on to the original list.”

The Book of Weather Reports is in fact concerned with a kind of endless, self-multiplying error; this error is not Darger’s, however, but the weatherman’s: “He was all wrong again except the temperature” (4/12/1966); “He says warmer at night. At 40? Yet it was 59 at 6am in the morning” (9/25/1967); “Wrong in all predictions” (11/11/1966). Then there are the partially accurate days: “He said high in 50s. It was. He said north to northwest winds 15 to 25 miles per hour. It was northeast;” or: “He was right on mostly cloudy today and warmer”—before going on to point out discrepancies. In this way Darger’s relation to the weather does not play itself out within the typical Christian moral economy. If the weather is often seen as a rich source of Signs, these Signs have been taken, most commonly, to indicate Divine Wrath for human sin; to make one acquainted with the limitless extent of Divine Power; or to prepare one for one’s absolute powerlessness at the moment of Judgment. Atmospheric forebodings thus analogize both the limits of our agency and the inevitability of our mortality and final judgment. But none of these models quite describes what’s happening in Reports. Though practicing a literal retreat, Darger in some sense preserves his own autonomy by displacing the self-critical aspect of this retreat onto another figure. This pattern can be clarified by a look at Darger’s next project after Reports, his Diary: “Over cords falling down, angry temper spell with some blasphemies. Almost about to throw the ball at Christ statue. Blame me for my bad luck in things, I’m sorry to say so. I’ll always be this way, always was and I don’t give a damn” (4/7/1968). Darger’s minute, endless projects of sorting twine and cord give rise to explosions—threats to the icons in his room and curses directed at the saints and heaven—all of which he meticulously documents, but then seldom takes responsibility for: “Tantrums over difficulty with twine and cord. Defied heaven to make things worse. Threatened to throw a ball. And in spite of being at four masses today and communion. Yet I never stood for things going wrong all my life and under any conditions, no matter what the cost, never will” (4/10/1968).

What emerges in this diary is the mechanism, and the form, of spiritual notation without their (usually constitutive) belief in the absolute authority of heaven or the absolute depravity of the human subject. Though we see occasional contrition, assertions of immutable, defiant identity like those above are more common. As his 1959 New Year’s resolution, Darger writes in Reports, “I’ll do the same next year, as I did this year, and that is final.” Earlier, in fact, Darger had directly threatened God that if a favorite lost photograph were not returned, he would take it out on the Vivian Girls. The implication is that God is involved in but powerless over their struggle; he needs Darger to finish the account in the appropriate, moral manner. What emerges is a bizarre pattern of negotiations and displacements of what are typically bedrock givens in religious consciousness.

In Reports the serious work of anticipating and explaining the massive moral storms that punctuate Realms gets projected onto a kind of hour-to-hour calculus of Chicago’s climate—and, more importantly, onto the weatherman, in his role as official interpreter of this drama. Book three takes up the weatherman in its title, announcing itself as “Book three of the Weather Reports truthful or contrary of Weatherman’s reports.” The weatherman is the saint/intercessor who struggles with these daily predictions. His incompletion stems not merely from his innumerable failures, but from the way these failures might evaporate, were they not carefully preserved by another. Thus the weatherman also needs the figure of Darger himself checking and noting the atmosphere and temperature every few hours from his apartment. Darger’s regulatory office is not merely earthly, but divine. His project implies a fateful hour at which the sum of the weatherman’s predictions will be cross-referenced with Truth. In this scene of judgment, Darger will step forth dramatically and unveil his Book.

In June of 1958 Darger starts to separate days with a blank line. By the end of the journals, days tend to have their own pages. But the increased space tends to indicate not so much an increased attention to climatic particularities as much as an increasing desire to compare what happened with what the weatherman predicted. This movement from direct notation of the weather to a moralizing comparison of these notes with official predictions can be understood as a move from the quotidian and scientific toward the allegorical and divine. At times, even, we get only the predictions without what actually happened. Thus if seasons present structures of expectation that allow for a kind of moral disappointment, the weatherman’s predications focus this drama into a daily routine. In Realms, Darger is at once the faithful narrator of an infinitely segmented and complex Christian allegory, and a secret god, bursting through the surface of narration periodically to assert his absolute will.

Though Reports takes place in a continuous present tense, this same dynamic begins: from within the field of quotidian description, increasing consciousness of the moral and spiritual dilemmas posed by the weatherman’s activity comes to hijack the notebooks’ “scientific” aims, casting Darger as a special prosecutor whose binding judgments stem from his obsessively complete notations.

Darger’s Writing

The following passage is excerpted from Volume I of Henry Darger’s novel, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. We are introduced to Governor Robert Vivian, emperor of the Catholic kingdom Abbieannia, and his seven daughters: Violet, Joice, Jennie, Catherine, Hettie, Daisy, and Evangeline.

Robert Vivian himself was the father of seven little Vivian Girls whose beauty could never be painted had they been seen for real. Of Violet, Joice, Jennie, and Evangeline, their beauty could never be described, but their nature and ways in goodness and soul was still more pretty and spotless. And no Evangeline St. Clare could beat them in their kind loving ways, and their love for God. They were always willing to do as they were told, keeping away from bad company and going to Mass and Holy Communion every day, and living the lives of little saints. The watchfulness of their parents made them what they were. They were Abbieannians by birth, but their parents, dreading the great Abbieannian storms, had left Abbieannia and first went to Angelinia. Hanson Vivian, who lost his wife and daughter, was their uncle and as pious as their father, but he was a Hercules for build, and a regular Samson for strength.

Way before Robert Vivian’s children were born, Hanson had a pretty daughter by the name of Violet Vivian. She herself was a regular Eva St. Clare and also died at the same age as Little Eva did. She was killed by the great typhoon which swept Abbieannia, as already described in the first few pages of this chapter.

Detail from At Jennie Richie Assuming nuded appearance by compulsion race ahead of coming storm to warn their father
Detail from At Jennie Richee Assuming nuded appearance by compulsion race ahead of coming storm to warn their father. Copyright Kiyoko Lerner.

By the time our story opens, twenty-seven years after Hanson had left Abbieannia, three of Robert’s other daughters, Daisy, Catherine, and Hettie, had been caught out in a large woods just as a terrific typhoon broke loose, sweeping a portion of the eastern coast of Angelinia. The frightful storm had lasted over two days, devastating a good many forests, and wrecking many cities and towns in its path. After the great storm, the little girls could not be found, though close searches had been made everywhere. Many days had passed, and still they had not been found. Robert had to give up the search in grief, though he, being a Catholic, did not give up prayer. He telegraphed the cities of Jennie Richee, Mic-Hollester, and Jennie-Wren-Town, and even Marcucian and Vivian Wickey, but no trace of them could be found.

The lucky number seven is of course prominent in religious lore; in Catholicism specifically there are the Seven Sacraments and the Seven Virtues. Interestingly, there are also seven bound and seven unbound volumes of the Realms. The historical individual who would seem to have had the most obvious influence on the formation of his Vivian Girls was St. Joan of Arc, who was very much in the news prior to her canonization in 1920. The Vivian Girls do not lead armies into battle as did St. Joan in 1428, but do go on spying expeditions, and they are living symbols for their country and the Christian cause. Darger made reference to St. Joan in the following passage: “It aroused the Angelinnians to superhuman bravery, fury and activity. … They fought … as if not only led by the spirit of the Maid of Orleans herself, but as if led by Christ and His Heavenly host of angels and Saints.”

Photograph of cover from Henry Darger’s novel, ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebelion’
Henry Darger’s novel, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Darger wrote the novel first in longhand, then typed a second version of the manuscript, which he bound by hand into a book of 15,000 single-spaced pages.

Also like St. Joan, the Vivian Girls were reputed to have abilities that bordered on the supernatural, owing to their spotless innocence and saintly nature. The character Vivian in Arthurian legend is an enchantress, the mistress of Merlin, the famed Lady of the Lake. The name is derived from the French and is both male, Vivien, and female, Vivienne, which leads us to perhaps the most intriguing similarity between the Vivians and the Virgin Maid of France: their mutual inclination to dress as boys when in the company of male soldiers. The Vivian Girls often disguise themselves as Glandelinian boy scouts in order to go behind enemy lines. They manage to alter their appearances just enough so as not to arouse suspicion or reveal their radiant feminine beauty. Moreover, disguising oneself as a boy is a common practice among many of these girl scout leaders, including Annie Aronburg, her sister Gertrude Angeline, and Jennie Turner. 1

Darger often depicts his girls with penises. There are a number of possible explanations, none very satisfying. Being as sheltered and religious as he was, he may never have considered that female genitalia look any different than male organs. Or perhaps he was endowing his little amazons with male equipment to indicate their warrior status. C.L. Morrison addressed this construct as well: “Traditionally, the mythological double-sexed figure has denoted knowledge of both sexes or a figure that is all-knowing, but by giving penises to his little girls, Darger has enabled himself to personally identify with their humiliating ordeals and to simultaneously be separate from them and facilitate their punishments. ” This raises another interesting issue regarding the sexual dualism in Darger’s work, for not only do the Vivian Girls frequently disguise themselves as boys, but the scout known as Rattlesnake Boy is really a girl.

The story deals with a war between two nations, the evil, child-enslaving Glandelinia, and the bright happy Catholic state of Abbiennia. The Abbiennians are led by seven moppets, the Vivian girls, and in fact, the entire land is populated by young girls between the ages of 6 to 10. The Glandelinians attempt to overtake the Abbiennians and the longest, bloodiest war in recorded history ensues. There’s a strong classical fantasy element, with maurading dragons and heroic warriors. Lots of martyrs, too, in grand Catholic fashion. Here’s an excerpt from the manuscript; I’m told that this is very representative of the whole.

Excerpt

The massacre continued for still another day. Children were dispatched in
the most horrible manner. Their intestines were cut out, the Glandelinians
even pelting their victims with them. Children were commanded to eat the
hearts of the dead children, and those who refused were tortured beyond
describing. The children were fairly bathed in blood.

Scores upon scores of poor children were cut to pieces, after being strangled
to death, and even their organs were hung on trees. Children were forced
to swallow the sliced fragments of dead children’s hearts. Nearly three
quarters of the number of children who were massacred died first by
strangulation, their eyes and protruding tongues were extracted, their
bodies opened and their entrails pulled out, and their bodies hacked and
torn and left lying in that condition on the streets and pavements. Blood
dripping corpses were fairly hung from windows or stuck on posts and pikes.
Children by the score per minute were scourged to death also being struck by
horrible whips made of rubber, rope, or leather, and also elastic rubber
whips with horrible iron spiked lashes at the ends, and the lashes torn
their flesh until they were covered with gore. Within three days the
sliced up bodies of the helpless innocents lay strewn by thousands, the blood
lying in puddles.

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n 1972, Henry Darger, a retired janitor, moved from his apartment of forty years at 851 W. Webster Avenue in Chicago to St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged to live out the final year of his life. His landlord, Nathan Lerner, enlisted another resident, David Berglund, to empty the apartment. Berglund found dozens of empty Pepto-Bismol bottles, scores of broken eyeglasses, decrepit and mismatched shoes, boxes full of twine, stacks of telephone directories, and newspapers and magazines that had turned green with mold and mildew. He also found thirty thousand pages of unpublished, handwritten manuscripts and more than three hundred astonishing works of watercolor and collage, up to twelve feet in length, of little girls, many naked, some bearing ram horns, some with tiny penises, being butchered by soldiers, in idyllic repose, or being guarded by dragon-like creatures with elaborately patterned, enormous wings. Stunned that his hermetic neighbor had secretly created such an enormous body of work, he visited Darger and told him of the discovery. “Throw it all away,” Darger said.

Lerner didn’t, and in the years after Darger’s death, he was instrumental in getting Darger’s paintings exhibited and helping to establish him as a king of Outsider Art, a broad, variable category that can encompass any untrained artists whose creations are free from the influence of art history, the mainstream art world, or the marketplace. Its most famous practitioners are socially marginalized, eccentric visionaries, many of whom have suffered from mental illness, and have produced work that is often so excessive in scope, obsessive in detail, and repetitive in form that collectors are frequently stereotyped as robber barons less concerned with the results as art than as the barometer of a naïve or diseased mind.

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And, certainly, anyone using that criteria to view Darger’s vistas of graphic warfare between soldiers and pre-pubescent girls might come to what Jim Elledge, author of Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy, calls, “the commonly held belief that the figures represented Darger’s desire, that his paintings of a child eviscerated, strangled, or crucified meant that he wanted to harm children.” Darger’s manuscripts included a ten-year weather journal and a 5,000-page memoir starring a tornado named “Sweetie Pie,” but the bulk of his art was meant to illustrate the 15,000-page opus The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. It told of a decades-long battle between the heathen Glandelinians and the enslaved Christian Angelinian children, who were forced

to work naked and routinely crucified, strangled, and eviscerated… “tortured by flogging, suspensions, pouring boiling tar or water over their heads, suffocation, strangulation, amputation of their fingers, burning with hot irons…” Some were used “for wicked purposes” – sexually – by the soldiers. After their usefulness as slave laborers was over, some of the “girls” became sex slaves for civilian Glandelinians, “sold to factories of ill fame.”

Henry_DargerIn Elledge’s opinion, those who would cast this scenario and its attendant panoramas as a pedophilic fantasyland are offensively erroneous, and have impelled him to provide “a solid alternative response” to correct their misconceptions.

But at this point, to whom is this belief common? In the ten years since Elledge began his work, Darger’s art has been massively praised and intelligently analyzed, to the point where he now appears on the cusp of escaping Outsider status for a place in the mainstream canon. Peter Schjeldahl sees Darger “as significant a figure as Henri Rousseau,” whose paintings “constitut[e] a pictorial genre all their own. Their composition and uses of color deserve to be called masterly… Dismissing Darger as some kind of weirdo is not an option. His cosmos is thought through and expressed with imposing integrity.” Arthur Danto considers him ”a genius of stammering achievement.” Holland Cotter has called the paintings, “remarkably beautiful and deeply disturbing…extraordinary in every way… Whatever the wellsprings of Darger’s work, the result is a complete, profoundly imagined world, a saga of damnation and redemption spelled out in vernacular emblems.” And Robert Hughes decimates the shallow assessment by maintaining that

It would be easy in these prurient days to think of Darger merely as a compulsive old pervert—a sort of Poussin of pedophilia. (One art-historian-cum-psychiatrist opined in the New York Times that ‘psychologically, Darger was undoubtedly a serial killer,’ a wildly irresponsible judgment, since practically nothing is known about this character, and in any case, he never harmed a fly; much the same-and on the same evidence-could be said about the authors of the Old Testament.)

It makes more sense to relate his work, in all its extreme, inward-directed fantasies of evil and innocence, to Darger’s main lifeline, the Catholic faith. Catholic iconography, as anyone knows who is even briefly exposed to it (and Darger was marinated in its kitsch forms for 70 years), is suffused with Massacres of the Innocents, scenes of roasting, flaying and disemboweling of idealized martyrs, sinners in hellfire and visions of a countervailing Paradise. Rummaging back through fantasies for redemption of his own wretchedly maimed childhood, Darger was able to bind up his wounds with his religious fixations. This, in the end, is what gave his art a power that did not exist in his life.

Elledge acknowledges none of this – instead, he selectively quotes from Hughes and Cotter to cast them as perpetrators of the fallacious interpretation, and then continues to undermine his position by devoting Throw-Away Boy to his stubborn insistence on refuting a largely obsolete perspective held by superficial commentators. It’s clear throughout Throw-Away Boy that reverence trumped judgment, and that Elledge, in his determination to save Darger from his phantom critics, has instead created a biography hopelessly muddled with irrelevancies, riddled with mind-numbing pedantry and clichés. It’s inexplicably shoddy work, whose flaws are mitigated only by the belief that a faulty introduction to Henry Darger is better than none at all, and that buried in this murk are some insights valuable for a deeper appreciation of Darger’s achievement.
In Elledge’s telling, Darger grew up in a world that was Charles Dickens meets NAMBLA. Born in 1892, Darger lived with his father, a destitute drunk, in an unventilated two-room renovated stable in Chicago’s abysmal West Madison Street district. A younger brother had died in infancy, and his mother died giving birth to his sister, who was subsequently given up for adoption. This left Darger essentially alone in

one of Chicago’s most notorious vice zones…known throughout the Windy City as a poverty-stricken amusement park of sensualities, excesses, and debaucheries of all types…Alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, missing parents (usually the father), and illnesses such as tuberculosis ravaged its families. Homeless men and boys crowded its streets and milled around purposelessly, prostitutes of both sexes displayed themselves on street corners and along the thoroughfares day and night… [and because] no laws barred children from the saloons, burlesque theaters, or whorehouses … children, including Henry, ran wild there.”

It was also a haven for pedophiles, who “cruised every nook and cranny” of the neighborhood, and at age seven, Darger was taken to the Cook County Insane Asylum, known by locals as Dunning, “because a policeman in his neighborhood caught him going to or coming from [visiting a] night watchman and likely engaging in other risky activities, many undoubtedly sexual in nature.”

Putting aside Elledge’s problematic habit of asserting likely engagement in undoubted activities, Darger’s time at Dunning did commence a journey through the rape dens of Illinois. Darger’s father, unable or unwilling to care for Henry, removed him from Dunning and placed him at the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy, a home for at-risk boys, where, “at eight years old and small for his age…[Darger] wasn’t in a situation in which he could get by without being at least one other boy’s sexual property.” He was tagged, not for the only time in his life, with the nickname “Crazy,” and was thrown out for what Darger refers to in his memoir as “strange things.”

As a child, Darger bullied smaller children, responded to punishment by slashing a nun with a knife, and retaliated against a neighbor who accused him of stealing wooden crates by setting them and, inadvertently, the man’s house on fire. But even Darger’s father had his limits, and when Henry, at age twelve, was caught masturbating in public, he was sent to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children. More years of sexual predation and abuse followed, and it wasn’t until the death of his father that Henry escaped from the asylum. He walked 165 miles from Decatur to Chicago, and found employment as a janitor. At some point, he met Whillie Schloeder, a night watchman thirteen years his senior, and began a relationship that would last almost fifty years. And his animosity towards children was somehow transformed into a profound sympathy that inspired the work of a lifetime.

The dearth of verifiable details makes for a hopelessly spasmodic narrative, leaving Elledge to combine speculation with irrelevant sociological studies and sensationalistic anecdotes to force Darger into a sociocultural context. His account of the Asylum prior to Darger’s arrival focuses on a child gnawed by rats, another child left in boiling water, and incidents of self-castration, including a boy trying to shoot off his own penis. Darger’s poor treatment by nuns at his janitorial job is somehow linked to reports from the International Association of Factory Inspectors describing industrial accidents where one worker was cut in half on a circular saw, and another who was caught on a flywheel and had his arms and legs torn off. The story of “Stanley,” who spent his childhood rolling drunks and mugging homosexuals, is offered as a substitute “portrait of a typical boy’s life in Chicago in the early 1900s” to illustrate the activities that Darger, poor, like “Stanley,” might have been engaged in.

It’s a confused, and confusing, agenda, and misses entirely what makes Darger so poignant. The tragedy of Henry Darger’s life isn’t that he belonged to an oppressed class. It’s that he didn’t belong anywhere. He and Whillie formed a secret society called The Gemini “to protect children.” They did nothing except meet and talk about what they were going to do. They wanted to adopt a child. Darger went to a priest for advice, and was told to pray. No amount of proletarian dismemberment tales can possibly illuminate the fumbling attempts of this hapless man to fulfill his naïve, agonizing desire to save children from evil, nor can any testimony from a pseudonymous gay surrogate enrich the woeful fact that Darger’s only loving relationship was with a partner equally weak-willed and lacking in practical intelligence. The only way Darger really protected children was by not repeating the sexual abuse he had suffered as a boy. This must have provided very cold comfort, and ultimately, Darger’s is simply the tale of how an irreversibly broken man, unable to find a purpose in this world, invented one where he could.

It was an invention born of torment, and a different book emerges when Elledge leaves social stratification and gets to his main point, which is a solid one – that any misreadings of Darger’s paintings come from the assumption that he represented himself as perpetrator rather than victim, and that the atrocities were pornographic snuff fantasies rather than metaphorical renderings of how he had been desecrated throughout his childhood.

Elledge convincingly analyzes The Realms as veiled autobiography, with Darger casting the benevolent figures from his life as Angelinians, and those who had been cruel as Glandelinians, finding in his adolescent experiences the materials for an epic of catastrophe and absolution:

While in the Asylum, Henry had harbored fantasies about leading the ‘bright boys’ in a rebellion against Dr. Hardt’s evil forces, the Asylum staff who strangled and beat the children and the men and older boys who sexually abused them. The Asylum’s caregivers were the prototypes for Henry’s Glandelinians. However, instead of depicting himself in his novel as the leader of the rebellion against the evil Glandelinians, Henry created the Vivian girls, seven young sisters, and their brother, Penrod, who come to the child slave’s rescue by engaging themselves as spies for the rebellion, devising military strategy with the good Angelinians, and even occasionally joining with them in battle.

Henry metamorphosed his commitment to the Asylum into Angelinian children being stolen away by Glandelinians. His work at the State Farm became children forced into slave labor. His escape from the Asylum transformed into children rebelling against the evil adults who enslaved them in the first place. He easily altered the various abuses that he experienced – especially those at the Asylum and its farm, but also at the Mission, Dunning, and the thoroughfares of West Madison Street – into children being crucified, eviscerated, or otherwise tortured. Ultimately, Henry converted nearly every struggle he faced, from the time he was almost kidnapped and raped by [a] ‘skidrow bum’ when he was playing on Adams Street to his escape from the Asylum, into a battle of good and evil.

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The sudden clarity and sense of authority are bracing. So too are Elledge’s explanations of Darger’s technique of tracing and enlarging images from magazines and coloring books, how his style evolved with his manipulation of appropriated materials, and where Darger drew inspiration for the Vivian girls, from the silent film star Mary Pickford, “adultlike children [that] were ubiquitous in American popular culture at the time,” and an obsession with news reports of Elsie Paroubek, a five-year old girl whose kidnapping and murder in 1911 galvanized Chicago. And as to the reasoning behind giving the Vivian girls penises, one of the great mysteries of Darger’s iconography, Elledge’s scholarship in queer studies results in an intriguing conclusion:

When he depicted them naked, it’s obvious that the Vivian girls aren’t girls at all but hermaphrodites… For Henry, they represent the psychic hermaphrodites that he, and many around him associated with belles, fairies, pansies, queens, and queers. Sexologists of the time would have catalogued them as physical representations of the concept of “anima muliebris in corpore vili inclusa” – a female soul enclosed in a male body…or centuries, gay men had used the figure of the hermaphrodite, usually a female body with male genitalia, to represent themselves. To explain why they were men who were sexually and romantically attracted to men, they theorized that, although their bodies were decidedly male, their souls were female… The question that faced me was: Could Darger have known this theory and, if so, what might that say about him?

Unanswerable. Most questions about Darger are. But it’s a rich entry point for those seeking to make sense of an often confounding vision, as well as Darger’s unending war with God, which Elledge sees as being fueled in no small part by Darger’s fury at not having been born a girl.

Fury over that, and so many other things, consumed the final years of Darger’s life, which were spent in physical and mental anguish. He suffered through arteriosclerosis, and pains throughout his body often kept him bedridden. He grew senile, bathed irregularly, wore layers of filthy clothes. He attended church up to five times a day, spoke to himself in different voices, sang “blasphemous songs” for hours, and according to David Berglund, sounded as if he was “reliving the arguments he had with the nuns.”

But as he raged against the God he blamed for depriving him of any chance at happiness, whose representatives both harbored and victimized him, whom he celebrated in his art only to be rewarded with further debilitation, he was abided by kindly neighbors who would bathe or feed him, take him to doctor appointments, or provide care when he was sick. Buried in the muddle of Throw-Away Boy is the proof that Henry Darger had already been saved, not by Jim Elledge, or by the church, or by the art world. It was by the residents of 851 Webster, who had no idea as they tended to him what was lying in those old trunks and in the twelve-foot long, homemade binders, but thought only to help an old man in pain.

The following listing of Henry Darger’s written material is largely based upon The Writings of Henry J. Darger: A Catalogue Raisonne and Reader’s Guide prepared by John MacGregor and Betsey Wells Farber for the Henry Darger Research Archive of the Contemporary Center of the American Museum of Folk Art (2001). Additional information has been provided by Michael Bonesteel.

Literary works, prepatory journals and related manuscripts:

The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion… total name of story, In the Realms of the Unreal (henceforth in this listing referred to as the Realms)

BOUND REALMS VOLUMES

Each volume is bound front and back with heavy cardboard covered with wallpaper samples. The typewritten pages (many glued back-to-back) are hand-stitched along the spines and connected to the covers.

Volume I , 644 pages

Volume II , 915 pages

Volume III, 1,162 pages

Volume IV , 1,577 pages

Volume V , 862 pages

Volume VI, 933 pages

Volume VII , 1,176 pages

UNBOUND REALMS VOLUMES

These volumes were originally found in bundles of loose pages. After reading them, scholar John MacGregor attempted to put them in to some kind of order. As he writes: “…the final sequence of volumes and chapters was left unsettled by Darger, with several volumes lacking either a title page or a volume number. Darger often moved huge sections of his manuscript about within a work, and large fragments were left out, perhaps to be fitted in later. The various numbering systems you will encounter on some pages provide evidence of evolutionary moments in the writing history of the Realms.”

Volume VIII (unbound), 836 pages (continuity with bound Volume VII).

Volume IX (?) (unbound), 2,164 pages (in the absence of any title page or identifying volume number, MacGregor has tentatively labeled this Volume IX).

Volume X, Part 1 (unbound), 862 pages (Darger identified this as Volume X and identified the next volume as Volume X, Part Two).

Volume X, Part 2 (unbound), 944 pages (continuity with Volume X, Part 1).

Volume XI (unbound), 908 pages (continuity with Volume X, Part 2; this is the last volume numbered by Darger).

Volume XII (?) (unbound), 1,210 pages (this volume was identified by Darger on the first page as Volume VII, but the material was apparently bypassed for the pages in bound Volume VII. Subequently, MacGregor determined that this might tentatively serve as Volume XII).

Volume XIII (?) (unbound), 652 pages (in the absence of any title page or identifying volume number, MacGregor has tentatively labeled this Volume XIII; it is clearly the last volume of the Realms, with the story brought to a firm conclusion, and also contains an alternative ending on several unnumbered pages).

Volume A (unbound), 364 pages, plus a number of song/poems (pages are out-of-sequence; this might possibly be a reservoir for any unused or rejected material for which Darger could not find a place).

Total number of typewritten pages in the Realms: approximately 15,000.

HANDWRITTEN JOURNALS AND MANUSCRIPTS RELATED TO THE REALMS

Unbound register book (cover missing), “In a Child Slave Plantation,” dated October 27, 1926, 328 pages (these chapters appear with little change in Volume IX of the Realms).

Bound, gray cloth-covered register book (1) , “Strange Incidents in St. Claires Plantation,” dated January 22. 1927, 138 pages, (these chapters appear with little change, and in continuity with “In a Child Slave Plantation,” in Volume IX of the Realms).

Bound, gray cloth-covered register book (2) , “Did Jannie find out who her master was? Chapter, What is it?” April 1, 1927, 136 pages, (these chapters appear with little change, and in continuity with “Strange Incidents in St. Claires Plantation,” in Volume IX of the Realms).

Unbound register book (cover missing and labeled “Book 4”), “The Plantation is Abandoned,” April 5, 1927, 320 pages, (these chapters appear with little change, and in continuity with “Did Jannie find out who her master was? Chapter, What is it?” in Volume IX of the Realms).

Bound register book (1) (very large and heavy), “Mullencat State Calverinia. Explosion, flood, and fire, 700,000 lives lost,” November 23, 1927, 474 pages, (this manuscript is not in continuity with the above manuscripts, but it does appear with little change in Volume IX of the Realms). There are also two other long sections in this manuscript: “Chapter 1, Introducing an Attempt of Violet and her Sisters to find out who is Responsible for the Flood Disasters,” (this section appears in Volume VII [bound] of the Realms); and “Chapter One, Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago,” (this probably forms part of Darger’s handwritten book, Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago, but it is not clear how this segment fits into the sequence of volumes in that book).

Bound register book (2), “No. One,” (this fragment running from pp. 11-46 belongs to the Realms, but it is not clear where it fits or if it was ever used); “No. Two,” (this fragment runs from pp. 47-143 and may belong to Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago).

Ring-binder pages tied together with string , “Amazing Phenomena Connected with the Enormous Battle of Dolorine Costellio,” 839 pages, (this long account has a possible connection with a much shorter version contained in Volume II of the Realms).

Small blue-black Keystone ring-binder , (pp. 840-957 establishes exact continuity with the manuscript above, “Amazing Phenomena Connected with the Enormous Battle of Dolorine Costellio”). The end of the binder contains blank pages.

Small Compositions book (front cover broken in half), “Battle of Eva Sainte Claire,” (there is no other information about this manuscript).

Large register book, “Please Return this Book to its Proper Place. This means you Henry D.” is handwritten on the outside cover (the first part of this book, pp. 181-273, consists of questions and answers copied from the Catechism of Christian Doctrine; the remaining pages contain drafts of Realms material, sketches of flags, plus various listings of characters, battles, generals, and deaths in the Realms, as well as a listing of Darger’s 78 rpm vinyl record collection).

Small bound book , commercially titled Time Book Monthly on the cover, containing handwritten, diary-like entries. It contains a series of “Predictions” dated June 1911-December 1917, used in the Realms.

Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago, a handwritten manuscript in 16 volumes (because there is no title page, this novel was previously named by MacGregor variously as The Vivian Girls in Chicago and Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House; Bonesteel called it Further Adventures in Chicago). In 2015, a number of Darger scholars determined that Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago best describes this book, particularly as Darger himself identified this as the title in his Bound register book (1) (see above). Additionally, there are more than 100 manuscript fragments thought to be related in some way to this book. Total number of handwritten pages in Darger’s final version of Further Adventures: approximately 10,500.

The History of My Life, a handwritten manuscript in 8 volumes (Volume One begins with “Descriptions from the Holy Bible,” pp. 1-37; a new set of hand-numbered pages, pp. 1-206, deals with Darger’s memoirs; however, pp. 206-5,084 relate a vast fictional saga of a tornado called “Sweetie Pie” and the damages it wreaks). Additionally, there are more than 4,000 manuscript fragments thought to be related in some way to the “Sweetie Pie” portion of this book. Total number of handwritten pages in Darger’s final version of The History of My Life: approximately 5,000.

Diary Journals

Book of Weather reports on temperatures, fair cloudy to clear skies, snow, rain, or summer storms, and winter snows, and big blizzards, also the “low” tempertures [sic] of severe cold waves, and hot spells of summer, a handwritten manuscript in six volumes dated December 31, 1957-December 27, 1960; May 31, 1962-November 15, 1963 (there is a break in the dating from the first to the second book, and a note by Darger explaining that the missing material was stolen); November 16, 1963-October 31, 1964; November 1, 1964-December 31, 1965; January 1, 1966-December 31, 1966; January 1, 1967-December 31, 1967.

First volume of Darger’ diary, commercially produced Desk Diary, bound, olive green, number of pages unknown, dated March 24, 1968 to February 21, 1969.

Second volume of Darger’s diary, “Continuation of my Diary,” DePaul ring-binder, blue, 28 pages, dated February 22, 1969 to January 1, 1973.

EXCERPT FROM FEBRUARY 1971 TO DECEMBER 1971

Not much Life History until October, when I had an eye operation in the left one because of a serious infection, and was in bed at home until a little before Christmas. I Couldn’t dare go out because of an eye covering for protection placed by the doctor. I had a very poor nothing-like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good New Year, and now resenting it. I am very bitter, but fortunately, not revengeful though I feel I should be. Now I am walking the streets again going to mass as usual. What will it be for me for New Years 1972, God only nows. This year was a very bad one, hope not to repeat it for—
Penworthy Composition Book titled “Property of Henry Jos. Dargarius (Hendro)” containing lists of Darger’s favorite songs, plus Abbieannian song titles and copied religious texts.

Storm of Creativity

Nathaniel Rich

Much of what we know about the life of the reclusive writer and artist Henry Darger comes from his memoir,The History of My Life, which at just over 5,000 pages was one of the shortest things he ever wrote. The first 200 pages relate the story of his troubled childhood. Born in 1892 on Chicago’s north side, he loses both of his parents at an early age, and a sister, whom he never meets, is given up for adoption. At the age of twelve, due to his unruly behavior (many believe that he was caught masturbating at Catholic school), he is sent to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, an institution which later attained local notoriety for its staff’s abusive treatment of its patients, in a town over 100 miles south of Chicago. At age 17, Darger escapes the asylum and sets out for Chicago–by foot. He is on this trek home when, on page 206, he observes “a most singular and unbelievable phenomenon,” his account of which tells us more about his personality and his art than any autobiographical detail ever could. The “phenomenon” that Darger sees is a giant tornado tearing across the plains. He does not try to contain his excitement:

It had far more wallop than even a powerful atomic bomb. However stupendous and shocking the many different catastrophes of the past may be, none of them can compare to this storm. It was a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man’s conception, immeasurable beyond all man’s conception, immeasurable beyond measure.

His description of this tornado, and the destruction it wreaks across southern Illinois, occupies the rest of his memoir–all 4,878 pages of it.

Although he never explicitly mentions it in the pages of his memoir, a different kind of storm did overtake Darger at this time in his life, a torrent of creativity that was itself a most singular and unbelievable phenomenon. Upon returning to Chicago after his cross-state trek he began work on The Story of the Vivian Girls, In What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. At 15,000 pages, it is by far the longest novel ever written. Over the next 65 years Darger would write, in addition to the Realms, an 8,000 page sequel, his memoir, and a number of journals and weather logs–over 30,000 pages in all, most of them typed single-spaced on oversized paper with small margins and few line breaks.

He also produced hundreds of haunting, darkly majestic paintings on scrolls as long as ten feet that illustrate scenes from the Realms. Darger did all of this in total secrecy and solitude while living in a succession of cheap one-room apartments. His neighbors knew him only as a prickly, penniless man who worked janitorial jobs and attended Church several times a day. Otherwise he rarely left his room. When he did, he would often be spotted talking to himself or picking through garbage cans. Whenever a neighbor or landlord tried to engage him in conversation he would not reply directly to their questions but only offer disconnected comments about the weather–particularly about storms and tornados that were headed, he warned, toward Chicago.

After Darger’s death in 1973, his landlord of 40 years, a photographer and artist named Nathan Lerner, discovered the paintings and manuscripts while clearing out his room. In the decades since, and especially in recent years, the artwork has made Darger an international celebrity. His paintings have toured museums around the world, usually under the designation of “outsider art” (art made by unschooled and often mentally disturbed artists). Some of the larger ones have sold in galleries for six-figure prices. He is the subject of three major biographical studies (Michael Bonesteel’s Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings, John MacGregor’s exceptional Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, and the forthcoming The Old Man in the Polka-Dotted Dress: Looking for Henry Darger, by C.L. Morrison), several glossy art books, and now an excellent new film by the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu.

The film, In the Realms of the Unreal, tells Darger’s story primarily through his own words, blending together excerpts from his memoirs with resonant passages from his fiction. And while the story of Darger’s life provides a narrative structure, it is the paintings that give the film its magical, hallucinatory qualities. Since Darger’s canvases are crammed with detail and often very large, Yu decided to animate them in the film; this way, we do not lose sight of their intricate designs but are drawn in one detail at a time, with the flutter of a girl’s eyelashes, or a little foot tapping under a table, or a soldier abruptly turning about-face. It is an uncanny and often thrilling style of animation, especially since most of the figures in Darger’s paintings are posed facing outward, gazing blankly at the viewer. It is like watching them awake with a shudder from some long nightmare.

Yet Yu’s most valuable contribution to the understanding of Darger is not the way she relates his life story, nor in the striking animation of his artwork. There is a subtle argument at work in this film, one that is never made explicit but which, like the animated paintings, comes alive in the details. What makes Darger’s strange work so fascinating is not that it reflects the inner universe of someone we might consider to be an outsider (to the art and literary worlds, to society, to sanity), but that it reflects something far more familiar. To understand what this is it’s necessary first to examine more closely, as Yu does, Darger’s primary novel. More than Darger’s paintings, it is his novel that yields the greatest insight into his technique, the sources of his inspiration, and his achievement.

Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal tells the story of an apocalyptic war that takes place on a planet “a thousand times as large as our own world, and with our earth as their moon.” The war is waged by the good Christian nation of Abbiennia against the barbarous Glandelinia. When the saga begins, Glandelinia has already invaded the peaceful state of Calverinia, massacring its population, conquering its cities, enslaving its children, and forcing it to secede from the union of Christian Kingdoms. Our heroines are the Vivian girls, the seven angelic blond daughters of Abbiennia’s emperor, who possess “a beauty that could never be described” (though Darger does exactly that for many pages at a time). Although they generally do not fight in the hundreds of battles waged over the course of the novel, they do take part in other ways. They cheer on their fellow Abbiennians, they lead secret reconnaissance missions into enemy territory, and they are consulted on important matters of military strategy. As such, they are hated by the Glandelinians, who gleefully torture the girls whenever they can. Yet despite the horrors the girls are forced to witness and endure (many of these episodes read like the last 30 days of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom), their courage never falters. To the girls, war is “fun,” “an exciting adventure,” and “a thrilling time,” as in: “[the Vivian girls] have a thrilling time fleeing through a field of gutted bodies of children, with shells bursting all around.” The girls are braver than the novel’s boys and most of the male soldiers as well. Their masculine nature is reflected in Darger’s paintings, in which the girls, who usually appear naked, have male genitalia–a confusion that has led to fevered, if inconclusive, Freudian speculation about the psychological basis of Darger’s art.

Like most mythology the fantastic world of the Realms incorporates legends and stories from other myths. As convenient as it might be to confer upon him outsider status, Yu’s film makes clear that Darger’s creations lie well within a very specific cultural tradition. Although Christian faith and morality are central to the story of the Realms, there are very few references to Christian legend within its pages. The stories that provide the basis for much of the novel are taken from the history books, comics, and novels that he first read as a child.

The war at the center of the novel is fought between a righteous Union of Christian states against a confederacy of states that practice slavery and seek to secede from the union; the evil Glandelinians even wear the grey uniforms of the Confederate Army. Causes of the war (there are many) include a legal dispute over the rights of a slave who had fled north to the free states–a children’s Dred Scott. The battle descriptions themselves are closely modeled after the meticulously detailed accounts of the Civil War popular in Darger’s day, though often with World War I weaponry and jargon inserted. Some of the scenes depicting the slaughter of children are clearly modeled after accounts of the massacre of Native American tribes: Before one attack, the children are seen as traveling in canoes and living in wigwams, pueblos, and longhouses. Darger’s descriptions of warfare also look forward. Biographer John MacGregor has pointed out that Darger, years before the outbreak of World War II, described genocide committed in concentration camps and massive bombs that, exploding into mushroom clouds, wipe out entire cities in an instant.

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Between battles, when Darger becomes occupied with the less grisly adventures of the Vivian girls and their comrades, he turns to his novels for inspiration. (In one scene, Yu pans across his old bookshelves, on which authors of long-forgotten children’s novels share space with Cervantes, Dickens, and Melville.) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is given particular prominence–at one point, when Darger tires of describing the mistreatment of child slaves, he writes that “hundreds of sad incidents like Little Eva in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ occurred,” and leaves it at that. The Vivian girls’ brother Penrod is named after Booth Tarkington’s fabled child hero, and the Vivian girls at times bear a striking resemblance to Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. A lengthy chapter on the taxonomy of the Realms’ dragons, which includes the “Fairy Winged Gazonian” and the “Handsome Dude,” reads like a fantastical version of the “Cetology” chapter of Moby Dick.

But Darger revered L. Frank Baum more than any other source. Like Darger, Baum lived in Chicago and toiled in obscurity for much of his life before writing the Oz series, another seemingly endless saga starring child heroes in a topsy-turvy parallel universe. Though as Darger wickedly points out, the similarities between the two worlds ended there: “I was just wondering lately what would the people of Oz do if their country had been somewhere in Calverinia … and Glinda would see in her great record book, ‘Great Glandelinian army advancing on the Emerald City, one hundred million strong.’” One can still hear him cackling to himself.

In his paintings Darger followed a similar strategy, using collage to incorporate into his canvases images from the newspapers and magazines he found in the trash. There is a mesmerizing montage in Yu’s film in which she shows how Darger transformed pictures of children from advertisements for baby food and photographs of World War I soldiers into child slaves and Glandelinian soldiers. His literary influences are not as well camouflaged in his novels. Still, the Realms in its current form is, at times, an absorbing fairy tale of cataclysm, slavery, imperial design, childish hubris, and spiritual redemption. It’s impossible not to wonder what the novel might have become under the influence of a ruthless editor, given a cohesive structure, and stripped of its maniacal repetition. Perhaps it would no longer be viewed as a portrait of a man made insane by an inner conflict between childlike naïveté and violent compulsions, but of a nation.

The Two Worlds of Henry Darger

One day in the year 1912 an unknown thief entered St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago and broke into a locker holding the possessions of a twenty-year-old janitor named Henry Darger. A photo of five year old Elsie Paroubek, which Darger had torn from a newspaper, was amongst the items taken:

CHICAGO. May, 11.—A reward of $1,000 has been offered, including $200 by Gov. Deneen, for the arrest and conviction of the murderer of Elsie Paroubek, whose body was found in the drainage canal Sunday.—NY Times, May 12, 1911. Elsie’s case remains unsolved.

The theft of the photo threw the janitor into a panic. Somehow, the loss of the picture of this poor little girl was more than Darger, who had petitioned the Catholic authorities to adopt a child and been refused, could take.

To begin to understand why the loss of a newspaper photo could affect this man so deeply, we must go back to his childhood. At the age of four, Henry Darger’s mother died giving birth to a girl. Henry never met his little sister, who was put up for adoption. At eight Henry’s ill father relinquished stewardship of his precocious book-loving son to The Mission of Our Lady of Mercy Boys’ Home. While there he was sent to one of Chicago’s public schools. The other children and more importantly the teacher found young Henry’s behavior disruptive. A doctor was called in and the child was diagnosed as suitable for the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln. Such children, sometimes referred to as “idiots”, were not deemed capable of academic accomplishments and were therefore not given any opportunity to achieve them. Instead, they were used as laborers. One attempt to escape resulted in Henry’s being lassoed by a horseman and forced to run back to the home on the end of a rope. Finally, at sixteen, Darger managed to escape, hopped a train to Decatur and walked to Chicago. There he began his life as a laborer in various Catholic institutions while residing in an assortment of small rooms, where, every night after work, he picked up a pencil and entered another world. He wrote,

Us children in those days were looked upon as beneath the dignity of grownups, whereas to my opinion all grownups, and especially all types of strangers, were less than the dust beneath my feet.*

Henry Darger became obsessed with the innocence of children and the evil done them by the adult world. “Babies,” he wrote, “were more to me than anything, more than the world.” Moreover, he seems never to have deemed himself a member of the adult world. Neighbors saw in him a childlike innocence, a man who lived a very simple life, talked to no one and just wanted to be left alone. He did what he had to do to survive, and that was it.

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One might, with a little effort, write a passing account of the aesthetic qualities of Darger’s visual art, even while admitting the special difficulty of such an attempt due to the relationship of that work to his writing. Very few people in the world are in a position to assess the proper contours of that body of writing; it’s just too enormous. It seems unlikely that his 15,000 page magnum opus, to which the much celebrated Vivian Girl paintings serve as visual extensions, will ever be published in anything nearing its totality, nor his 5,000 page autobiography, and certainly not his ten year weather journal. Even the snippets that are available, in John MacGregor’s biography and in Michael Bonesteel’s Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings, are difficult for today’s reader to access, since they are out of print and expensive to purchase. But even admitting such difficulties, a mere aesthetic approach to the art of Henry Darger will be unsatisfactory, simply because the most cursory glance at his work and life cannot ignore the ruckus of questions that surround the man who neighbors saw as both odd and completely ordinary. It is hardly possible to look at Darger’s art with an eye uncolored by one’s personal view of the world.

There is, to begin with, the preponderance of naked little girls with penises. Then there are a number of brutal depictions of children being tortured, which illustrate those portions of the opus which deal with the enslavement, murder and overall oppression of children. These items alone strike the viewer as weird, signaling a realm out of the ordinary, even for contemporary art. When the American Folk Art Museum in New York unveiled a comprehensive exhibit of the work in 1997, Director Gerard C. Wertkin admitted that some viewers were “utterly repulsed.”** In fact, Darger’s only biographer to date, prone to psychoanalysis, dares suggest that the eccentric loner may have murdered little Elsie.

The image of the very real Elsie Paroubek is the lightning rod between the real world of Chicago, scrub buckets and Catholic Mass and the Unreal World of Henry Darger’s room. The writer incorporated her tragic image into the narrative fabric of his magnum opus, making the real-world loss of her photo hinge directly upon the evil done to the Vivian Girls. He wrote himself into the narrative as well. In this and many other ways, Darger showed himself to be a lucid maker in full control of his material.

This does not mean that he was a remarkable draftsman. He was not, and he knew it. His genius was to find techniques that enabled him to make artworks so coveted by today’s collectors. He began by amassing a cache of images wherever he could find them: from newspapers, advertisements, coloring books or from the garbage can. He then assembled the images into compositions through collage or by tracing their outlines and coloring them in. Some of these compositions, done on pieces of butcher’s paper taped together, measure over eight feet long. Sometimes, to get the right size image, he would utilize a photographic innovation at the corner drugstore. Consider this: he would spend three dollars of his twenty-five dollar a week salary on a photo enlargement of an image. This was clearly someone who knew what he wanted and was determined to get it.

Darger divided the two worlds of his life in full lucidity. Many details support this view. No one so much as suspected Darger’s private life as an artist. Other than William Shloder, the only friend he is known to have had, no one ever suspected that Darger took any special notice of children, not even the children who lived in his building. Mary O’Donnell was a cute little girl when Darger came to live in the building her parents owned. She has said that Henry paid no attention to her and her playmates, adding, “Leave me alone, he would say, leave me alone.”* Kiyoko Lerner, Darger’s landlord and inheritor of his estate, said that Darger would not even answer direct questions, and would only talk about the weather. The weather is always a safe topic of conversation, and it seemed that Henry did not feel comfortable talking about anything else, preferring to save conversation for when he was home, all alone. Yet here too he was determined to offer proof of the arrogant foolishness of the adult world. His detailed weather journal kept careful track of the discrepancies between the actual weather as he experienced it and the weather as forecasted by the local meteorologist. It seems clear that Darger divided his two worlds in complete awareness.

The Unreal Vivian Girls were too beautiful for the real world. Darger wrote, “Their beauty could not never be painted had they been seen for real.” So beautiful and so pure were the Vivian Girls that for General Darger to view them,

He must do the same thing as when preparing for Holy Communion—he must be in a State of Grace, never use any profane language, like once in a while he did, and must be in better control of his hasty temper, which generally he had. He did not feel himself worthy enough to approach these fair creatures, and determined to become more clean of heart. And that night while he laid in bed he dreamed that he went to Abbiennia, saw the girls beg him most pleadingly to end their unjust sufferings.—Henry Darger, from The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion

A devout Catholic, Darger built a shrine to the lost photograph and petitioned God fervently for its return. God did not intervene, and in a rage Darger tore the altar down and predicted ruin for the Girls. “God is too hard on me,” he wrote. “I will not bear it any longer.” He caused General Darger to turn traitor and join the forces of the heathen Glandelinian Army. And then, for a time, he stopped writing. In one of the most poignant scenes of the very beautiful film by Jessica Yu, the narration states: “The loss deepens Henry’s realization that all the power he wields in his fantasy world cannot bring him what he yearns for in the real one.”*

But the Catholic Church was the only home Henry Darger ever knew, and he did not turn his back on God for long, even though he often thought that his prayers were ignored. He resumed his regular attendance to Mass, and worked his repentance into the grand narrative of his opus. Near the end of his life he ended the novel with victory for the Girls. But on the next page he wrote another ending. Here the heathens are victorious and evil prevails. The double ending is perhaps one of the most disturbing details of Henry Darger’s work. And yet I admire its courage, for it is an accurate reflection of duplicitous life as this suffering “sorry saint” experienced it.

Henry Darger is the quintessential artist. And this in spite of what Michel Thévoz advises us to remember: “we have rummaged around in the bedroom of a dead man, a man who seems to have done everything he could to protect himself from our intrusion.”** Darger made art for the purest of reasons: out of a need to transform his sadness and pain into something beautiful and dignified. And so, while he is, in a sense, being loved to death, his work locked away in the name of protecting a world treasure, others, alone in rooms suffering travails that only they can detail, look to him as to a beacon of artistic truth. Let the Institutions protect their treasure. Let the scholars and babblers psychoanalyze him. Henry Darger is for the orphan geniuses among us.

 

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