Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century
The nineteenth century is often celebrated as a period of great innovation in artificial limbs. Not only did the century see tremendous developments in surgical practice, meaning that more amputees survived amputation and more survived with serviceable stumps able to support prosthetic limbs, but an attitude was also cultivated that increasingly privileged physical “normalcy”. As the concept of the “normal” body was constructed by contexts such as the emergence of bodily statistics, the growth of sciences that equated physical appearances with particular character traits, and changes in Poor Law legislation, it became more important than ever before for individuals to conceal bodily losses in order to avoid the stigma attached to physical difference. An emerging profession of prosthesis makers cashed in on both this growing consumer market and wider taste for physical “wholeness”—an explicit constituent of “normalcy”—by producing sophisticated artificial limbs designed to conceal limb loss (aesthetically and functionally). The products of the most successful of these limb makers, such as A. A. Marks and Frederick Gray, were celebrated by journalists and advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of such high spirits surrounding the achievements of artificial limbs, literary representations of prostheses tended to be more critical of both the efficacy of and logic underpinning such devices. Two examples of a texts that complicated the developing hegemony of physical “wholeness”—as well as the importance placed on concealing physical difference—were the sensation-fiction short stories “Lady Letitia's Lilliput Hand” (1862) by Robert William Buchanan and “Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring” (1895) by T. Lockhart. In this talk, I will argue that texts such as these challenged the status quo by presenting sensory critiques of hand prostheses and questioning the demand for them to enable users to “pass” as “normal”.
Dr Ryan Sweet, University of Leeds
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Audience: Open to all