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 (volume 1)
By their scope and ambition, Henry Darger’s 15,000-page The Realms of the Unreal and 5,000-page autobiography (The History of My Life), two manuscripts with fastidious descriptions and a complex gallery of characters and historical facts, require an avid and relentless reader. Passing through the whole oeuvre allows one to identify a unique space, style, and personal language, made of rhythms, keys, and patterns. Art historian Michael Bonesteel, who has published extensive research on Darger, has attempted to date the many volumes that make up The Realms of the Unreal. The texts for the first seven volumes bear dates spanning 1910 to 1913: Volume I covers 1910 to 1912; Volume II, 1910 to 1912; Volume III, 1912 to 1913; Volume IV, 1912 to 1913; Volume V, 1913; Volume VI, 1913; Volume VII, 1913. This does not mean that Darger wrote them in those years, however, as he seems to have rearranged the pages constantly, but because they were bound in 1932, they would have to have been written by that year. In the following volumes, all unbound, the texts bear dates spanning 1913 to 1917: Volume VIII has no date; Volume C (both Bonesteel and John MacGregor, another expert on Darger, agree that it is Volume IX), 1913; Volume X, parts 1 and 2, 1913; Volume XI has no date; Volume A (Bonesteel labeled it Volume XII), 1914 to 1917; Volume VII (Bonesteel labeled it Volume XIII, MacGregor Volume XII), 1915; Volume B (Bonesteel labeled it Volume XIV, MacGregor Volume XIII), 1915 to 1917. How long Darger spent writing The Realms of the Unreal after 1932 is questionable. According to MacGregor (Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, 2002), Volume X contains a reference to “the Crash of world’s money market,” dating the creation of that volume, atleast in part, to no earlier than late 1929. He suggests, therefore, that the first nine volumes were written between 1911 and 1928 and deduces that the remaining volumes were completed by 1938 or 1939, since Darger embarked on Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House in 1939 (according to a reference in a letter MacGregor found among Darger’s belongings).
Valérie Rousseau, “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 (volume 1),” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.