I'm conflicted about this book. On the one hand, it is a rich, vivid Chicago history and much-needed sympathetic look at a little-understood outsider artist... on the other hand, it is a work of biography whose major claims are built largely upon speculation. I felt like I should be more wary of the author's claims throughout the book, but he makes them very convincingly. The notion that Darger was a furtive pedophile never sat well with me, so I'm glad that this book stacks up some solid proof against that — and as a result of reading this, I do believe that Darger was both sexually abused as a child and gay as an adult.
This book is very moving and well-researched. It's a valiant effort that falls short of solid biographical scholarship but does make a solid argument for the threads that would tie together what little we know of Henry Darger's deprived existence. Maybe writing a book on the topic of a mysterious outsider artist involves some inescapable speculation. In any case, I would consider this book the most likely story of Henry Darger's life; the claims that he was a pedophile and a murderer, etc., are based solely on knee-jerk reactions of horror to his paintings of the Vivian Girls, his heroines, being abused (in some of his works.) Elledge argues that these paintings were a way of working through memories of the abuse that Henry himself had suffered throughout his childhood in dangerous slums, asylums, and boarding-houses for impoverished boys. His claims, on the other hand (that Henry was abused and had a long-term homosexual relationship with a man as an adult,) are based in historical research, census records, contemporary memoirs, as well as Henry's own diary.