Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy

Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy

The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781590208557
  • 384  Pages
  • Adult


Utterly unknown during his lifetime, Henry Darger led a quiet, secluded existence as a janitor on Chicago’s North Side. When he died, his landlord discovered a treasure trove of more than three hundred canvases and more than 30,000 manuscript pages depicting a rich, shocking fantasy world—many featuring hermaphroditic children being eviscerated, crucified, and strangled.

While some art historians tend to dismiss Darger as possibly psychotic, Jim Elledge cuts through the cloud of controversy and rediscovers Darger as a damaged and fearful gay man, raised in a world unaware of the consequences of child abuse or gay shame. This thoughtful, sympathetic biography tells the true story of a tragically misunderstood artist. Drawn from fascinating histories of the vice-ridden districts of 1900s Chicago, tens of thousands of pages of primary source material, and Elledge’s own work in queer history, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy also features a full-color reproduction of a never-before-seen canvas from a private gallery in New York, as well as a previously undiscovered photograph of Darger with his lifelong companion William Schloeder, or “Whillie” as Henry affectionately referred to him.

Engaging, arresting, and ultimately illuminating, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy brings alive a complex, brave, and compelling man whose outsider art is both challenging and a triumph over trauma.


“Ostracized in life and vilified after his death, Henry Darger is the ultimate American anti-hero. Elledge reveals Darger as a damaged, fearful, gay man, raised in a world unaware of the consequences of child abuse or gay shame—and his strange art as a triumph over trauma.” —Dick Donahue

“Prolific author and editor Elledge presents an extraordinarily compassionate and adventurously researched biography of the self-taught Chicago artist, Henry Darger. Drawing on his far-ranging investigation and keen psychological perception, Elledge poignantly and convincingly argues that the torture Darger depicted and his fantasies of revenge and rescue were cathartic responses to the traumas he suffered. Now, 40 years after Darger’s death, justice is finally served in Elledge’s gripping, humanizing, and haunting portrait of the artist as a wronged man.” —Booklist, Starred Review
Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy deserves a prominent place among the ongoing attempts to unravel the mysteries that lie behind the epic art and writings of Henry Darger.“ —Chicago Tribune

“[Elledge] has written the definitive account of an artist who alchemized tragedy into art of transcendent and disturbing power.” —OUT Magazine

“A rich portrait of the outsider artist’s life, scaffolded with a decade’s worth of research.” —NY Arts Magazine

“Delves further into one of the most enigmatic artists of the twentieth century, reveals minute details, and answers hotly debated questions about Darger’s life, his loves, his passions, his daily life, the misconceptions surrounding him, and what it meant to be an exiled artist.” —Bay Area Reporter

“In the world of overwrought biographies that love the tragic artist mythology and the profit-based art-world hype machine, Elledge’s book is the closest you might come to getting at the actual truth of the artist.”—Bookslut

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