Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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MaryBartonFrontispiece.jpg
References to disability abound in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (1848): Margaret experiences progressive blindness from cataracts (though at the end of the novel she is said to regain her sight); the aging Alice…

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Printed tactile, or relief, maps began to be published during the early nineteenth century and were used to teach the sighted and the blind geography. Initially used in Europe, they were introduced into the United States by American educators who…

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In 1873 Alexander Graham Bell was employed to teach George Sanders, a five year-old congenitally deaf boy. As part of his instruction of Sanders, Bell used the ‘talking glove’ found in the 1680 book, Didascalocophus, or the Deaf and Dumb Man’s…

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Pedro Velasquez’s gripping 1851 Illustrated Memoir of an Expedition into Central America chronicles the enterprising Hammond expedition that absconded with a pair of native children after discovering Iximaya, a fabled city hidden in deep in the…

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In 1846, B.F. Palmer filed the first patent for an artificial leg in the United States. His product, characterized by its smoothly articulated knee, ankle, and toe joints, as well as its elegant and lifelike appearance, was an immediate success. It…

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Heir of Redclyffe Illustration.pdf
The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) was Charlotte M. Yonge’s first bestseller, establishing her reputation as an enjoyable as well as an improving novelist; as one critic wrote nearly twenty years later, “Anything written by the author of ‘The Heir of…

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A Noble Life (1866) is Dinah Mulock Craik’s second novel to feature a disabled protagonist. It resembles her earlier novel, Olive (1850) in representing disability as a spiritually uplifting and morally improving experience, which renders the…

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The History of Sir Richard Calmady was something of a succès de scandale when it was published in 1901. The author, Lucas Malet, had already made her name with her bestselling novel, The Wages of Sin (1890), which dealt with the sexual double…

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Little Dorrit, first published in monthly installments between 1855 and 1857, is arguably Charles Dickens's most disability-focused novel. In this later and darker work, Dickens uses the trope of disability to emphasize the disease—social,…

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Published in 1881 in The Graphic, a widely distributed British newspaper, the following anonymously authored article, entitled “The Royal Hospital for Incurables,” and the engravings accompanying it, offer a sense of the kind of care that the…
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