Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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Ugly Clubs reflect changing notions of deformity through the long nineteenth century, before and beyond. Ugly Clubs arose from fictional forebears in early eighteenth-century satirical periodicals in Britain, including Ned Ward’s The Secret History…

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Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1846–1848) attests to his career-long interest in chair-bound characters[1]—characters who, because of illness, injury, or egotism, are confined or confine themselves to a “wheeled chair” (alternately…

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Yonge’s 1853 novel The Heir of Redclyffe was the bestseller which made her name, but it was The Daisy Chain (1856) which cemented her reputation. In the preface, Yonge describes it as “a Family Chronicle” (v), and this was the genre with which…

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One of the most recognizable characters in Victorian fiction, “Tiny Tim” Cratchit reappears each Christmas in radioplays, television, stage, and film. Through these cultural reproductions, Tim has come to represent yuletide charity and the…

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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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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…

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Invalidism may seem to limit mobility, confining one to the four walls of the sickroom. But, for those who were well enough and wealthy enough, the Victorians actually made an industry of travelling for the sake of one’s health. Thus, far from…

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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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John Kitto (1804-1854) was a British missionary and writer of religious books who was deafened at the age of 12 by a fall. In his youth, Kitto, who typically worked with his father, a mason, rather than attend school, was also forced to spend time in…
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