Henry Darger - Throw Away Boy
The title of this biography pretty much says it all. "Henry Darger: Throwaway Boy" not only summarizes a truly pathetic life, it embodies the way society, his family, the Catholic Church and every other institution Darger came into contact with failed him.
Except for a very brief stint in the Army during World War I and a much longer and more horrifying one in a Downstate Illinois asylum, Henry Darger never ventured very far from the Near North Chicago slum where he was born in 1892. His father a useless alcoholic, his mother dead at an early age, Darger became a throwaway boy when he was warehoused in an asylum for the mentally ill. The reason: He masturbated.
As author Jim Ellege makes clear, at the turn of the last century, "reformers," doctors and civil authorities (don’t even mention religion) took the term "self-abuse" seriously indeed. The Chicago institution was no picnic, but it was paradise compared to the Downstate one, to which he was subsequently confined.
If Darger’s childhood was far more Dickensian than anything Charles Dickens could come up with, he was cheated out of a decent adulthood by the nuns who ran the hospitals where he was put to work doing the most menial chores until old age and death finally released him. These religious sisters could have given any Nazi camp guard a run for his money.
What makes Darger’s story stand out from the all-too frequent hard-luck stories that populate this lousy world is what happened after he died. When his last landlord had his single room cleaned out, a discovery of piles of manuscripts and illustrations came to light.
These were mostly fantasies about a world inhabited by children, most of them girls, some of them girls with penises, who were enslaved and fought another tribe of adults. Stenciling from discarded newspapers, magazines and anything else he could find, Darger created colorful murals of the battles, tortures and triumphs of his imagined universe.
As per usual, the most elite critics, led by New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winner Holland Cotter, totally missed the point. The guy had to have been a serial killer, in thought if not in deed, they reasoned. No other sick mind could have fashioned such bizarrely horrifying narratives.