Henry Darger… extraordinary escapism.

This is possibly one of the most fascinating tales I’ve ever come across…

Set on a large planet around which Earth orbits as a moon, inhabited mostly Christian people, a species called the Blengigomeneans, gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human form, and the evil Glandelinians, is the longest illustrated novel in history written by one solitary janitor in a single room in Chicago, over a half century period.

A Blengigomeneans or Blengian, winged creatures who aid the Vivian Girls in their rebellion.

Henry Darger was a recluse who settled in a second-floor room of an apartment building in 1930, it was here that he stayed for the last 43 years of his life to finish The Story of the Vivian Girls:What is known as the Realms of the Unreal,of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave RebellionWith fifteen volumes totalling 15,145 pages it is possibly the longest novel ever written, and it contains several hundred colour illustrations and paintings – some up to 10ft long. The book follows the adventures of seven princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia, the daughters of Robert Vivian, who fight against an evil regime of child slavery imposed by the Glandelinians.  Darger had worked all of his life to protect children, relating to them better than adults, he even tried to adopt a child at one point but a history including spells in several mental institutions meant that any applications were rejected.

The girls are sometimes represented as hermaphrodites, and behave like men, while the scenes themselves range from cheerful and innocent to much darker imagery.

Darger couldn’t fully communicate with the outside world and so was shunned, it was only in his books that he could live freely and created an alternate identity: General Darger.

Darger spent most of his life alone, only to be seen regularly searching bins for old newspapers and magazines from which he took some of his inspiration. It was never expected that he was turning these into art.

His life works which included the Vivian Girls, an autobiography and several other small volumes were found in his one-room apartment after his death in 1973.

For more info, Jessica Yu made a documentary in 2004 about the life and works of this elusive artist – here’s a trailer…

I’m going to go to university now and scour the library for this DVD, outsider art – they love that stuff!

Darger’s works are now held by the American Folk Art Museum in New York which also runs The Henry Darger Study Centre in which the books themselves can be flicked through.

A tragic story but these amazing works are a little silver lining at least…


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