Prosthetic Body Parts in Literature and Culture, 1832 to 1908
Sweet, Ryan Craig
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Desire to publish material from the thesis.
Covering the years 1832 to 1908, a period that saw significant development in prosthetic technologies—in particular artificial legs, teeth, and eyes—this thesis explores representations of prostheses in British and American nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature and culture. By considering prosthetic devices such as wooden legs and hook hands alongside artificial body parts that are often overlooked in terms of their status as prostheses, such as wigs and dentures, this thesis is the first to examine holistically the varied and complex attitudes displayed towards attempts to efface bodily loss in this period. Lennard J. Davis has shown how the concept of physical normalcy, against which bodily difference is defined, gained cultural momentum in the nineteenth century as bodily statistics emerged onto the scene (Enforcing Normalcy). This thesis builds on Davis’s work by considering other historical factors that contributed to the rise of physical normalcy, a concept that I show was buttressed by an understanding of the “healthy body” as “whole”. Like Davis, I also explore the denigration of physical difference that such a rise encouraged. The prosthesis industry, which saw tremendous development in the nineteenth century, cashed in on the increasing mandate for physical normalcy. However, as this thesis shows—and where it breaks new ground—while contemporary journalism and advertising often lauded the accomplishments of an emerging group of professional prosthesis makers, fiction tended to provide the other side of the picture, revealing the stereotypes, stigma, scepticism, inadequacies, and injustices attached to the use and dissemination of prosthetic devices. I argue that Victorian prosthesis narratives complicated the hegemony of normalcy that Davis has shown emerged in this period. Showing how representations of the prostheticised body were inflected significantly by factors such as social class, gender, and age, this thesis argues that nineteenth-century prosthesis narratives, though presented in a predominantly ableist manner, challenged the dominance of physical completeness as they either questioned the logic of prostheticisation or presented non-normative subjects in threateningly powerful ways.
PhD in English