Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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Incurables.jpg
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…

Jane Eyre.jpg
Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 sensation, Jane Eyre, ends with a dramatic climax in which the hero is blinded and maimed. This ending is often read as a symbolic castration.  Richard Chase first proposed this Freudian reading of Rochester's disabilities…

Mrs. Clennam.jpg
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,…

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…

Wilkie Collins.jpg
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a prolific British writer who was famous for his contributions to the genre of “sensation fiction”   including the popular novels The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868). Hide and Seek (1854), from which…

Olive.jpg
Dinah Mulock Craik’s (1826-1887) novel Olive (1850), features a heroine who has a shoulder deformity but who goes on to establish a career as an artist and to win the love of a Scottish minister whom she rescues from religious doubt. Olive was one…

little lame prince.jpg
Dinah Mulock Craik’s Victorian fairytale The Little Lame Prince and His Travelling Cloak (1874) tells the story of Prince Dolor, whose legs are disabled after a nurse drops him at his christening. Following the death of his father, the king of…

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Dinah Mulock Craik’s (1826-1887) novel John Halifax, Gentleman (1856) follows John Halifax’s journey from an impoverished orphan boy to self-made tradesman hero. As their friendship unfolds, Phineas Fletcher, the novel’s disabled first-person…

bridgmancaswell.jpg
In January of 1842, Charles Dickens paid a visit to the Perkins Institute for the Blind, just outside of Boston, MA, as part of his American tour. There he met Laura Bridgman, whom the director of the institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, touted as the…

Mr. Wegg.jpg
Our Mutual Friend, first published in serial form from 1864–1865, is a novel that literalises George Henry Lewes’s observation that Charles Dickens’s characters are wooden puppets that are brought to life by incident (“Realism and the Art of…
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