Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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  • Tags: Blindness

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When Arthur Symons (1865-1945) published his sonnet “The Blind Beggar” in 1892, he added to an already large body of literature that links the experience of visual disability with begging. Noteworthy among texts from the period that…

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William Wordsworth’s (1770-1850) poetry contains several interesting and largely unexplored representations of disability.  One familiar pattern, seen in “Resolution and Independence” (1807) has the speaker of Wordsworth’s poem encountering…

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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…

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“Blind Guy Fawkes” is noteworthy for how it both participates in and diverges from a representational pattern.  The introduction into Britain of raised-print books in the first decades of the nineteenth century and the proliferation of finger…

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Thomas Greene Wiggins, better known as “Blind Tom,” was an autistic savant with an encyclopedic memory. He is known for his mind-boggling ability to replicate music and other sounds after only one hearing. Wiggins was born into slavery in…

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When Dinah Mulock Craik, the author of John Halifax, Gentleman and The Little Lame Prince, wrote her essay, ‘Blind’, about the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, in 1861, she was engaging in an active discussion…

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Despite his resistance to the formal study of painting, William Dunlap’s time in Europe would prove critical to the history of American art because it was at West’s studio in London that Dunlap became acquainted with the foremost artists of the…

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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…

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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 these self-portrait miniatures the American painter William Dunlap (1766-1839) depicts the visible sign of his disability: permanent blindness of the right eye resulting from a childhood accident. Dunlap turned his damaged eye away from the viewer…
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