Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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  • Tags: Literature

UglyFaceClub-1806Broadside.jpg
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…

Ruskin Art Criticism.jpg
As theories of degeneracy[1] gained currency in the latter part of the nineteenth century, literary critics increasingly used rhetoric of pathology (that is, of health and sickness) to discuss authors and their works.[2] As Arata explains, critics…

Bleak House Sharpshooters.jpg
While many of Charles Dickens’s novels and nonfiction works depicted people with disabilities, his novel Bleak House, published serially over 1852-1853 and in volume form in 1853, is veritably full of characters with bodies and minds deemed…

Mrs. Skewton's Bath Chair.jpg
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…

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…

cropped illustration from The Pillars of the House.jpg
One of Charlotte M. Yonge’s last great family sagas, The Pillars of the House (1873) prominently features disability. Several of the thirteen orphaned Underwood siblings experience disability or chronic illness: Felix, the eldest, struggles against…

CharlotteYonge.jpg
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…

Signora Neroni.jpg
Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1857), the second novel in his “Chronicles of Barsetshire” series, details the public ecclesiastic conflicts between the newly powerful Evangelicals of the Church and the reigning Tory conservatives.…

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One of the most well known nineteenth-century fictional representations of disability is that of Quasimodo, the deaf and disabled bell-ringer in Victor Hugo’s 1831 historical novel, Notre-Dame de Paris. The novel quickly became immensely popular,…

Christmas Carol Want and Ignorance.jpg
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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