Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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  • Tags: Literature

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Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a writer and intellectual of the Victorian period. She was best known for her work on political economy, but she was also deaf from childhood and an invalid for six years. She wrote about both of these experiences in…

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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…

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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…

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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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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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Published in 1904, H. G. Wells’s novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth is a tale that depicts ocular prosthesis at its most effective: the minor character Mr. Skinner is only revealed as an artificial eye user after his death, where…

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Anthony Trollope's The Bertrams (1859) is a rare example of a nineteenth-century novel that depicts a one-eyed female character. Whereas male characters that have missing eyes appear frequently elsewhere in nineteenth-century British…

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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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Most celebrated, and often ridiculed, in the Victorian era for his Proverbial Philosophy, Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-1889) was one of the most popular poets of the nineteenth century. His poem “The Stammerer’s Complaint” (1838) is one of the…
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