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ACTIVITY AND PASSIVITY: CLASS AND GENDER IN THE CASE OF THE ARTIFICIAL HAND

  • Clare Stainthorp (a1)
Abstract

This article analyzes the tension between the active, present body and the absent, passive body in this medical case study, presented by doctor and prosthetist Henry Robert Heather Bigg in his 1885 book Artificial Limbs and the Amputations which Afford the Most Appropriate Stumps in Civil and Military Surgery. I reproduce Bigg's account in its entirety because, to date, Artificial Limbs has not been digitised, although it is held at around a dozen academic libraries in the UK and USA respectively. Bringing attention to and providing a close reading of a source not previously discussed academically sheds new light on the way the disabled body was read by medical professionals in the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition, I consider Bigg's narrative rendering of this unique case study alongside several contemporary sources, including memoirs, novels, short stories, and journal articles. In doing so, I identify how assumptions made by Bigg about the (disabled, female, privileged) hand mirror and echo those in the wider cultural sphere. The sensing hand is an instrument of will, and the creation of such a prosthesis troubles the dynamics of active and passive, touching and touched that Pamela K. Gilbert has identified as crucial to nineteenth-century discourses surrounding the hand. By designing and making this prosthesis, Bigg exerts his professional and masculine agency to make the woman's body assume the position of something beheld rather than embodied.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Jennifer Bann . “Ghostly Hands and Ghostly Agency: The Changing Figure of the Nineteenth-Century Specter.” Victorian Studies 51.4 (2009): 663–85.

Aviva Briefel . The Racial Hand in the Victorian Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015.

Peter J. Capuano Changing Hands: Industry, Evolution, and the Reconfiguration of the Victorian Body. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2015.

William A. Cohen Embodied: Victorian Literature and the Senses. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Pauline Eyre . “Comment from the Field. Transforming Bodies: Prosthetics Seminar.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 5.1 (2011): 109–12.

Rex Ferguson . “The Literary Hand: Handwriting, Fingerprinting, Typewriting.” Critical Quarterly 56.1 (2014): 4055.

Rosemarie Garland‐Thomson . “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs 30.2 (2005): 1557–87.

Neil Handley . “Artificial Eyes and the Artificialization of the Human Face.” Devices and Designs: Medical Technologies in Historical Perspective. Ed. Carsten Timmerman and Julie Anderson . Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 97111.

Erin O'Connor . “‘Fractions of Men’: Engendering Amputation in Victorian Culture.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 39.4 (1997): 742–77.

David E. Shuttleton , “‘Please put a date to your letters . . . ’: The Textual Evidence for Dr William Cullen's Management of His Epistolary Practice.” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.1 (2014): 5977. Web. 7 Sept. 2015.

Vanessa Warne . “Artificial Leg.” Victorian Review 34.1 (2008): 2933.

Vanessa Warne . “‘To Invest a Cripple with Peculiar Interest’: Artificial Legs and Upper-Class Amputees at Mid-Century.” Victorian Review 35.2 (2009): 83100.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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