Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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  • Tags: Blindness

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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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John Everett Millais’s (1829-1896) The Blind Girl (1856) shows a blind musician with a concertina in her lap, and a little girl, presumed to be her sister, resting on the roadside after a rainstorm. They are on their way toward Winchelsea, whose…

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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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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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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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Thomas Edison’s phonograph was the first machine to reproduce the human voice. In December 1877, Edison’s associates assembled a device on which Edison recorded the words of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The prototype consisted…

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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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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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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…

DunlapSelfPortrait1805.jpg
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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