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Activity and passivity: class and gender in the case of the artificial hand

Stainthorpe, Clare 2017. Activity and passivity: class and gender in the case of the artificial hand. Victorian Literature and Culture 45 (1) , pp. 1-16. 10.1017/S1060150316000401

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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.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)
ISSN: 1060-1503
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 August 2018
Date of Acceptance: 28 September 2016
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2019 07:12

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