Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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  • Tags: Novel

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…

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 in…

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 referred to as…

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 disabled…

Mrs. Clennam.jpg
Little Dorrit, first published in monthly installments between 1855 and 1857, is arguably Charles Dickens's most disability-focused novel. In this later and darker work, Dickens uses the trope of disability to emphasize the disease—social, economic,…

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A Noble Life (1866) is Dinah Mulock Craik’s second novel to feature a disabled protagonist. It resembles her earlier novel, Olive (1850) in representing disability as a spiritually uplifting and morally improving experience, which renders the…

Heir of Redclyffe Illustration.pdf
The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) was Charlotte M. Yonge’s first bestseller, establishing her reputation as an enjoyable as well as an improving novelist; as one critic wrote nearly twenty years later, “Anything written by the author of ‘The Heir of…
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