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Series I: Writings and Manuscripts, undated

Identifier: I

Scope and Contents

The series consists of what is recognized to be Darger’s complete manuscripts. The manuscripts are both handwritten and in typescript. The series contains Darger’s epic, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnean War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion a tale of seven little girls—the Vivian Girls—who set out to rescue abducted children who have been enslaved by the adult Glandelinians, and led by the character General John Manley. The heroes in this tale are children, who usually appear unclothed and are of mixed gender. The villains typically are adults. The manuscript is a story of war and peace, of good versus evil, and loosely parallels many of the events of the American Civil War.

Other works include a handwritten manuscript later typed into In the Realms of the Unreal; a planning journal from In the Realms of the Unreal; and two voluminous works following In the Realms of the Unreal, titled Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, which follows the Vivian Girls in an investigation of murder set forth by evil ghosts. The Vivian Girls, with their brother and companion Penrod, battle demons that inhabit inanimate objects inside a Chicago house and murder the children who enter. The manuscripts also include a work titled The The History of My Life, detailing Darger’s early life, eventually evolving into a fiction about a tornado called Sweetie Pie.

The suggested order of the manuscripts is detailed in the catalogue raisonné “The Writings of Henry J. Darger” (see Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, by John M. MacGregor, New York: Delano Greenridge Editions, 2002). Several volumes either lack a title page or volume number. Various numbering systems are evident throughout the works. Manuscripts that are bound vary in construction, from sewn bindings up to six inches deep, to assembled collections of notepads bound by string, tape, and other materials. Some manuscript covers are covered with floral patterned paper and titled with gold paint. Unbound manuscripts are foldered in order as defined in the catalogue raisonné.

The majority of the manuscripts are brittle. Many pages are written and/or typed on highly acidic paper; most are in fragile condition. Throughout the collection, Darger used the backside of paper sheets and paper leaves created from two sheets of typing paper pasted together. He also used assorted flyers and notebooks—presumably pulled from the trash—which occasionally contain information and/or text written by unidentified individuals.

The manuscripts are arranged chronologically, as defined by the American Folk Art Museum at the time the material was donated to the Museum Archives.


  • undated

Conditions Governing Access

Access to this series is currently restricted due to the fragile condition of the manuscripts. Some of the manuscripts in this series have been reproduced and these reproductions can be viewed upon request with advance notice. These include portions of the The History of My Life, Volumes I, II, and V, and the planning journal for the In the Realms of the Unreal.


41 linear feet (45 containers; boxes 1-45)

Language of Materials



This series is arranged in eight sub-series:
A: In the Realms of the Unreal, bound;
B: In the Realms of the Unreal, unbound;
C: In the Realms of the Unreal, planning journal;
D: Handwritten manuscript later typed into Realms;
E: Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, bound;
F: Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, unbound;
G: The History of My Life, bound; and
H: The History of My Life, unbound

Note on Dates and Volumes

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, at least 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.


Repository Details

Part of the American Folk Art Museum Archives Repository

47-29 32nd Place
Long Island City New York 11101 United States
(212) 595-9533