University of Leicester
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Disabled domesticity : representations of disability in nineteenth-century literature

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posted on 2014-10-09, 11:07 authored by Ruth Emily Ashton
This thesis explores the representations of the blind, deaf, and physically disabled in literature of the nineteenth century. Focusing upon literature published around the mid-century, the texts discussed are: American Notes, Charles Dickens (1842), ‘The Cricket and the Hearth’, Charles Dickens (1845), Olive, Dinah Craik (1850), ‘The Deaf Playmate’s Story’, Harriet Martineau (1853), Hide and Seek, Wilkie Collins (1854), ‘Dr Marigold’s Prescriptions’, Charles Dickens (1865), A Noble Life, Dinah Craik (1866) and Poor Miss Finch, Wilkie Collins (1872), all of which include portrayals of disability in a primarily domestic setting. It explores the effects of class upon the experience of the afflicted, as well as the state of society in terms of its attitude towards gender roles and familial modes, as well as marital and maternal roles and adoption. Many of the texts explored in this thesis include adoption plots of some form, which serves to argue that the disabled person, with no expectation of becoming part of a new generation of a biological family, is able to fulfil their familial desires. By investigating these disabilities alongside each other, this thesis is able to illuminate great differences in the experience and cultural approach to different afflictions. The afflicted had to work hard to carve out identities that reached beyond their crippled legs or useless eyes, and yet the results of this study show surprising outcomes to this. The disabled individuals discussed in these pages are not housed in freak shows, put on display, or taken advantage of, but rather they exist in a primarily domestic setting, attempting to carry out their daily lives in much the same way as their able-bodied counterparts. The question is, of course, how far Victorian society, in light of the newly emerging discoveries in the scientific and medical fields, would allow this.



Furneaux, Holly

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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