Dr. Ryan Sweet "‘Wholeness’, ‘Incompleteness’, and Disabled Futurity in Victorian Prosthesis Narratives"

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Recorded by Dr. Ryan Sweet on July 29, 2020.

For audio description, please watch this video on YouDescribe at the following link (best with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox): https://youdescribe.org/video/

Lecture Summary: This talk investigates how and why physical ‘wholeness’ became culturally dominant in the nineteenth century, and how literary representations of prosthetics engaged with this hegemony. The first part parses the historical factors underpinning the rise of physical ‘normalcy’, including coalescing theories that drew together mind and body, the rise of bodily statistics, lingering fears of contagion, changes to the Poor Laws, unshifting gendered social demands, and the marketing efforts of emerging prosthetists. The second part then turns to transgressive literary imaginaries of prostheses. Using two fictional case studies that represent artificial-hand users, English poet, novelist, and playwright Robert Williams Buchanan’s ‘Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand’ (1862) and the lesser-known short-story writer T. Lockhart’s ‘Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring’ (1895), Dr. Sweet argues that literary representations of prostheses often simultaneously reinforced and complicated the hegemony of physical ‘completeness’.1  As Dr. Sweet suggests, such stories perpetuated fears of physical disaggregation while also bringing into question the efficacy of prostheticising. Towards the end of the talk, Dr. Sweet will read Buchanan’s short story through the lens of Alison Kafer’s concept of ‘crip time’, highlighting how disabled futurity was not always imagined in negative ways in the nineteenth century.2

[1] Robert Williams Buchanan, ‘Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand’, Temple Bar, 4, 5 (1862), 551–69, 114–31; T. Lockhart, ‘Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, 12 (1895), 300–304.

[2] Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013).

Dr. Ryan Sweet is a Lecturer in Humanities at Swansea University. He is a specialist in literary and cultural disability studies and his first book, about how prosthetic body parts were imagined in Britain and America in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan for open-access publication. Recently, he has also begun work uncovering the rich cultural history of prostheses for animals.

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Resources and Further Reading

Speaker’s Publications

Sweet, Ryan. “A Felt Experience: Touching the Book at Birkbeck, London.” Victorian  Literature and Culture 43, no. 1 (2015): 195-202.

Sweet, Ryan. “‘A Human Bundle’: The Disaggregated Other at the Fin de Siècle.” Victorian Review 40, no. 1 (2014): 14–18.

Sweet, Ryan. “Reading Victorian Deafness: Signs and Sounds in Victorian Literature and Culture.” Literature and History 23, no. 1 (2014): 82-84. 

Books and Sources

Bigg, Henry Heather. On Artificial Limbs, Their Construction and Application. Trieste Publishing, 2017.

Bolt, David. “Not Forgetting Happiness: The Tripartite Model of Disability and Its Application in Literary Criticism.” Disability & Society 30, no. 7 (2015): 1103–1117.

Buchanan, Robert Williams. “Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand.” Temple Bar, 4, 5 (1862), 551–69, 114–31.

Carlyle, Thomas. Past and Present. Massachusetts: C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1843.

Collins, Wilkie. Hide and Seek. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1869.

Collins, Wilkie. Poor Miss Finch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. 

Dickens, Charles. Barnaby Rudge. Boston: Chapman and Hall, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. London: Chapman and Hall, 1865.

Haley, Bruce. The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Henham, Ernest George. "A Human Bundle." Temple Bar 111.438 (1897): 42-58.

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013.

Lockhart, T. “Prince Rupert’s Emerald Ring.” Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts 12 (1895), 300–304.

Lombroso, Cesare. Criminal Man. Translated Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Longmore, Paul K. and Lauri Umansky. The New Disability History: American Perspectives. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Maudsley, Henry. Responsibility in Mental Disease. 3rd ed. London: H.S. King, 1876.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2008.

Morley, Frances. The Flying Burgermaster: A Legend of the Black Forest. 1832.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Man That Was Used Up.” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (1839).

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Spectacles.” Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper (March 1844).

Quetelet, Lambert Adolphe. A Treatise on Man and the Development of His Faculties. Edited by T. Smibert. Translated by R. Knox. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Smiles, Samuel. Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. London: Murray, 1859.

Trollope, Anthony. The Bertrams. London: Penguin Books Limited, 1993.

Wells, H. G. The Food of the Gods, and How It Came to Earth. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904.

People and Organizations

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Alison Kafer

Anne Digby

Christian Index and Southwestern Baptist (Newspaper)

Claire L. Jones

Clare Stainthorp

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 

David Bolt

Erin O’Connor

Ernest G. Henham

Francis Galton

Helena Michie

James Harvey Young

John Tosh

Lambert Adolphe Quetelet

Lauri Umansky

Lennard J. Davis

Lillian E. Craton

Mark Mossman

Martha Stoddard Holmes

Pamela Gilbert

Paul K. Longmore

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson 

Sue Zemka

Talia Schaffer

Temple Bar (Magazine)

William Dodd