The Newberry Seminar in American Art and Visual Culture

Friday, November 1, 2019

Rethinking Henry Darger’s Vivian Girl: Transgressive (and Transgressed) Little Sainthood

Henry Darger created his art by tracing images from pop culture sources, including coloring books, comics, and clothing advertisements. Although he gleaned his imagery from resources that conform to the gender binary, he often complicates girl bodies with hand-drawn additions of male genitalia—a characteristic of “girls” in Darger’s fictional world that remains unexplained. This paper positions Darger’s Vivians within and against frameworks of transgressive and gender-bending saints celebrated in Catholic devotional lore and speaks to gender ambiguity as a sign of special holiness that marks the Vivians and links them to SS. Joan of Arc and Vivia Perpetua.