Intimations of intellectual disability in nineteenth-century British literature Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Marchbanks, Paul R.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Mental retardation and autism spectrum disorders do not yet command the same critical attention as sensory or mobility impairments. Rosemary Garland Thomson's Extraordinary Bodies (1997) set a precedent from which few have deviated, deftly including intellectual disability in a taxonomy for disability studies without exploring the subject in depth. My project addresses such continued oversight by turning to the pivotal nineteenth century, a period when promising medical innovation was outpaced by increasingly isolationist institutional practices and dehumanizing, proto-eugenicist systems of thought. A few writers moved against this powerful current, interrogating their own prejudices as they created progressive visions of the intellectually disabled in close, interdependent communion with an able-minded majority. The project opens with an examination of how individuals with cognitive disabilities provided the people of an increasingly powerful nation with a useful yardstick against which to measure their industrial and social progress. It then considers Mary Shelley's deconstructions of monstrosity within the context of a pervasive physiognomic practice. Charles Dickens's increasingly non-stereotypic portrayals of the idiot, the Brontë sisters' visions of domestic care for the mentally disabled and mentally ill in a time of growing iv institutionalization, and Robert Browning's critique of proto-eugenicist and intellectist ideology, as well as his refined use of terms like "idiot" and "imbecile."
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  • In Copyright
  • Taylor, Beverly
  • Thornton, Weldon
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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