Published in the metropolitan middle-class family magazine Temple Bar in 1897, Canadian-British author Ernest G. Henham’s short story “A Human Bundle” is a literary source that in hyperbolic terms perpetuates fears about physical loss, anxieties central to nineteenth-century Western bodily discourse.Footnote 1 The quotation above, from a horrified medical student who has witnessed the shocking amputation of an unfortunate young man’s legs, arms, nose, and ears, reveals what the loss of body parts meant ontologically in the nineteenth century. For the medical student, the patient is neither human nor useful but rather “nothing better than a human bundle.”Footnote 2 The student’s harsh assessment is partly justified by the egregious nature of the medical procedures undertaken, but such raises the question, how was bodily loss viewed more generally in the nineteenth century? If the patient’s body in this story is incomplete, then what did a whole body look like? What constituted a physical loss? If the losses that Henham’s character experience render him less than human and “useless,” then what did it mean to lose or not be born with a leg, an eye, or a head of hair in this period? What historical factors underpin a privileging of physical wholeness and a fear of incompleteness?

This chapter explores how, as the concept of physical normalcy became increasingly reinforced as culturally dominant (the Self), those who were seen as missing body parts were marginalized (i.e. rendered Other). Buttressed by a post-Enlightenment belief that medicine and the emerging sciences could fix the issue of bodily loss, prostheses came to the fore as devices that could supposedly standardize aberrant bodies, making them aesthetically acceptable and useful. However, because prostheses were and remain devices that undermine binaries of Self/Other, organic/artificial, real/fake, and disabled/nondisabled, such devices also complicated the hegemony of organic wholeness. Their very production was mandated by preferences for physical completeness, but their implementation shifted definitions of what it meant to be whole. The conceptual complexity of the prosthetic provided material to fiction writers who responded to the growing dominance of physical wholeness. As I argue in the chapters following this one, fictional representations of prostheses simultaneously reinforced and complicated the hegemony of physical completeness. Such stories perpetuated fears of physical disaggregation while also bringing into question the very impulse to prostheticize.

The history of human attitudes to physical difference has garnered increased interest in recent years as disability studies has infiltrated mainstream scholarship. Lennard J. Davis’s seminal book Enforcing Normalcy (1995) shows us how the concept of normalcy, against which disability is often understood, was constructed in the age of industrialization following the rise of bodily statistics and the corollary concept of the average man.Footnote 3 As I mention above, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, who draws from Davis’s influential work, coins the term “normate”: a word that “names the veiled subject position of cultural self, the figure outlined by the array of deviant others whose marked bodies shore up the normate’s boundaries.”Footnote 4 Though not a disability-studies scholar per se, Sander Gilman shows us that images of disease invoke a process of boundary construction between the “healthy” observer, physician, or layperson, and “diseased” patient. Such a process, according to Gilman, helps to “localize” and “domesticate” disease, dissipating the fears of “collapse” that illness threatens.Footnote 5 Binary logics and social-constructivist frameworks link these critics’ works. They show us that physical difference is not an inherent problem but is articulated as such in societies that construct, privilege, and perpetuate normalcy. The following contributes to debates surrounding the social-construction model of disability. I show that physical wholeness was a major constituent of normalcy articulated in ways that buttressed the power of the normate.

This chapter surveys the historical factors underpinning the rise of the normate. Beginning with an outline of various scientific theories that eroded Cartesian boundaries between body and mind, what follows parses legal and social changes, influential literary works, and prosthesis commerce. As I argue, each of these contexts contributed to the growth of physical normalcy and the denigration of difference.

Cultivating Completeness

The history of Western society’s privileging of physical normalcy over difference is a contested one. Critics including Davis and Katherine J. Kudlick argue that this is a post-Enlightenment phenomenon.Footnote 6 Davis, for instance, asserts, “disability was not an operative category before the eighteenth century.”Footnote 7 However, others, such as Quayson and Anolik contend that the privileging of normalcy is more longstanding. Anolik states, “The impulse of Western culture to define the human norm by the physical ideal and to construe the non-normative as dangerously close to the non-human actually predates the Enlightenment by millennia, as does the tendency to prioritize the norm and ignore the non-normative.”Footnote 8 Elsewhere, Quayson writes, “as can be shown from an examination of folktales from all over the world, the plot of physical and/or social deformation is actually one of the commonest starting points of most story plots.”Footnote 9 Given the recent work in this area, it seems probable that equivocal concepts to our modern notion of normalcy have existed for much longer than Davis acknowledges, but this does not diminish the value of his thesis. Indeed, what cannot be disputed is that the scientific, medical, and legal discourses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries buttressed, and sought to legitimize, boundaries between the normate and the physically aberrant. In this respect, the period of Western industrialization was without doubt a seminal moment in terms of constructing our modern understandings of the typical and the different body.

Theories of Body and Mind

Disability studies has shown us that the concept of the normal body is a social construction. As Davis states, “the idea of a norm is less a condition of human nature than it is a feature of a certain kind of society.”Footnote 10 Among the most important and well-covered factors contributing to the rise of normalcy in the nineteenth century was the development of bodily statistics. Davis and Craton provide useful commentaries on this topic, but it is worth providing a summary here to illustrate how wholeness was constructed as a major constituent of the emerging discourse surrounding the “average” man.Footnote 11 Belgian mathematician, statistician, astronomer, and sociologist Lambert Adolphe Quetelet came up with the concept of “l’homme moyen,” or “the average man,” in his influential 1835 work A Treatise on Man and the Development of His Faculties.Footnote 12 As Craton summarizes, “Quetelet calculated the mathematical norms for a range of physical and social categories[,] everything from head circumference to age of marriage to criminal tendency[,] in order to draw a detailed portrait of the human norm.”Footnote 13 For Quetelet, his average man constituted a kind of paradoxical ideal: “an individual who epitomized in himself … all the qualities of an average man, would represent at once all the greatness, beauty and goodness of that being.”Footnote 14 Quetelet’s notion of l’homme moyen became popular in England in the 1830s. It was well received by intellectuals and stimulated the development of the contemporary disciplines of social science.Footnote 15 The implications of Quetelet’s work on non-normative bodies are concisely noted by Davis: “When we think of bodies, in a society when the concept of the norm is operative, then people with disabilities will be thought of as deviants.”Footnote 16 Intellectually, Quetelet’s theories set the foundations for eugenics, a set of ideas that sought to eradicate physical and mental differences seen as negative.

While the concept of physical wholeness is not evoked directly in Quetelet’s concept of l’homme moyen, his average man has two eyes, two arms, two legs, two arms, and so on. In other words, he is physically complete. Associating health with the average and illness/deformity with those who deviate from it, Quetelet observes:

If the average man were completely determined, we might, as I have already observed, consider him as the type of perfection; and every thing differing from his proportions or condition, would constitute deformity and disease; everything found dissimilar, not only as regarded proportion and form, but as exceeding the observed limits, would constitute a monstrosity.Footnote 17

Such a view provides evidence for Bruce Haley’s observations that Victorian understandings of health centred on the concept of completeness. Haley suggests that “[n]o topic more occupied the Victorian mind than Health,” and that “wholeness,” along with functionality and vitality, was a key component of what constituted health.Footnote 18 As Haley states, “health is a state of functional and structural wholeness. In an organism the two are related, for a structure becomes functional when viewed as part of a living whole.”Footnote 19 An implication of such a view of health was that those who exhibited even the slightest degree of incompleteness were rendered unhealthy—a label with grave consequences.

Another significant context that contributed to the stigmatization of physical incompleteness, and deviance more widely—which intersected with Quetelet’s work in terms of the classification of physical difference—was the popularity of the science of physiognomy. The philosophy that one can ascertain the moral qualities of another by assessing her/his appearance, in particular her/his face, has existed since classical times.Footnote 20 But such a system was codified and popularized in the late eighteenth and early-to-mid nineteenth centuries by Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater, whose influential Essays on Physiognomy were first published in German between 1775 and 1778.Footnote 21 As a result of rapid population growth, urbanization, and changing social dynamics, physiognomy became an important tool in the nineteenth century: “physiognomy provided a new code for conformity as people became concerned not just with judging others, but with how others were judging them.”Footnote 22 Thomas Holcroft’s cheap English translation of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy was reissued eighteen times from the late 1780s through to the late 1860s alone, indicating the popularity of physiognomy in Victorian England.Footnote 23 John Graham notes that Lavater’s essays were published 156 times before 1940.Footnote 24

Regarding physical wholeness, Lavater’s writings and the subsequent works that drew upon his philosophies reinforced prejudices against physical loss and asymmetry developed in the Bible. For instance, in 1805 Richard Payne Knight, a reputed British arbiter of taste, commented on the peculiar but nonetheless “naturalized” prejudice against animals that have non-normative facial features: “if we were to meet with a beast with one eye … we should without inquiry, decide it to be a monster, and turn from it with abhorrence[.] … [T]he Creator having formed the one regular, and the other irregular, we habitually associate ideas of regularity to the perfection of the one, and ideas of irregularity to the perfection of the other.”Footnote 25 This passage recalls the biblical correlation between ocular aberrance and moral corruption. For instance, in the Old Testament it is asserted that to “the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock[,] … his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.”Footnote 26 Here the loss of an eye is seen as an apt punishment for or mark to distinguish negligent character. A similar sentiment is echoed in the New Testament gospel of Luke: “when thine eye is single [good, healthy, or clear], thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil [wicked, bad, or diseased] thy whole body also is full of darkness.”Footnote 27 The latter passage was quoted and reiterated by Lavater, who added, “[i]t is as physiognomonically [sic] true, also, that when nothing is oblique, sinister, dark, rough, incongruous, heterogeneous, in the body, then is all health and harmony, and every object bright.”Footnote 28 Despite Lavater’s use of this quote as support for his physiognomical treatise, such a stigmatized view of having one eye is not entirely consistent in the Bible. There is a famous verse in the Gospels where Christ exhorts his followers to gouge out an eye if it causes them to sin, concluding with “it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”Footnote 29 Here the verse aligns having one eye with purity or virtue, which is significant as Jesus is arguably overturning the injunction in Leviticus that prohibits the blind (and otherwise impaired) from entering the Temple.Footnote 30 Lavater aligned his view on eyes with George Daumer, who in 1702 claimed: “The eye appertains more to the soul than any other organ.”Footnote 31 It is suggested that to display two healthy eyes is to display good character. Though he ambiguously distances his readings of eyes with those quoted, Lavater also cites Paracelsus, who applied the following traits to “Small, and deep sunken eyes … bold in opposition”: “not discouraged, intriguing, and active in wickedness; capable of suffering much” (emphasis added).Footnote 32 For Lavater and his followers, those who deviated from the standard, conspicuously whole, body created by God manifested visibly an aberration that ran much deeper. Such views placed additional pressure on the notion of self-presentation. Those with physical deformities were forced to conceal their differences to avoid negatives physiognomic assessments. To use current terminology, they were encouraged to pass.Footnote 33

In a manner not dissimilar to the champions of Lavater and the proponents of the related science of phrenology, such as Franz Joseph Gall, who linked physical features (of the human cranium in particular) to behavioural traits, many scientists, philosophers, and physicians continued to controversially erode Cartesian boundaries between mind and body. The impact of this erosion further solidified the premium on physical completeness. From the 1830s onwards, a physiological model for understanding the human form emerged, which often emphasized the reciprocal rather than the previously assumed independent natures of the mind and the body. Studies of the body, the physiology of the brain, and the nervous system thereby took on increased significance. Stressing the importance of the body in 1835, popular English physician and sanitary reformer Thomas Southwood Smith demanded that physiology should be the basis of all study of humankind:

The mind is dependent on the body: hence an acquaintance with the physiology of the body should precede the study of the physiology of the mind. The constitution of the mind must be understood before its powers and affections can be properly developed and directed, hence a knowledge of the physiology of the mind is essential to a sound view of education and morals.Footnote 34

Alexander Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect (1855) revived attention in the link between mind and body.Footnote 35 As he suggested, “[a]lthough Subject and Object (Mind and Matter) are the most diametrically opposite facts of our experience … there is a concomitance or connection between mind and a material organism.”Footnote 36 He would later reaffirm:

Instead of supposing that mind is something indefinite, elastic, inexhaustible,—a sort of perpetual motion, or magician’s bottle, all expenditure, and no supply, we now find that every single throb of pleasure, every smart of pain, every purpose, thought, argument, imagination, must have its fixed quota of oxygen, carbon, and other materials, combined and transformed in certain physical organs.Footnote 37

Contemporaries who supported the links made between mind and body included evolutionary biologist Herbert Spencer, German physiologist and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt, the anatomist T. H. Huxley, and the mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford. Together, these figures contributed to a new tradition in the sciences that we might usefully call “psycho-physiology.” While, as Lorraine J. Daston, Rick Rylance, and Roger Smith have observed, all of these proponents trod a fine line between attempting to create a characteristically physiological discipline for analysing the mind and downplaying accusations of materialism, implicit in each account was an attempt to collapse Cartesian dualism.Footnote 38 William A. Cohen pays testament to the cultural influence of such work in his monograph Embodied (2008). Here he goes so far as to claim that “embodiment came to be the untranscendable horizon of the human.”Footnote 39

In terms of the relationship between physical difference and mental state, pre-eminent psychiatrist Henry Maudsley, another key figure in the psycho-physiology movement, bolstered the links between body and mind carved out by Lavater in his 1874 work Responsibility in Mental Disease:

There is not an organ in the body which is not in intimate relation with the brain by means of its paths of nervous communication, which has not, so to speak, a special correspondence with it through internuncial fibres, and which does not, therefore, affect more or less plainly and specially its function as an organ of mind. It is not merely that a palpitating heart may cause anxiety and apprehension, or a disordered liver gloomy feelings, but there are good reasons to believe that each organ has its specific influence on the constitution and function of mind[.]Footnote 40

For Maudsley, the brain was not the only physiological matter that could influence the mind; for him, other parts of the body could affect the temperament of a subject in many ways. Associating physical deviances with specific moods and behaviours, Maudsley implied that those who display physical difference are often mentally aberrant therefore legitimizing the work of Quetelet, who claimed that the normal body was the healthiest in all regards. Most severely, Maudsley asserts, “[m]ultitudes of individuals come into this world weighed with a destiny against which they have neither the will, nor the power to contend; they are the step-children of nature and groan under the worst of all tyrannies—the tyranny of a bad organisation.”Footnote 41 Endorsing a theory that suggested physical and mental degeneration are passed on by a process of atavism, Maudsley supports a deterministic understanding of the human condition that stigmatized physical difference.Footnote 42

Criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso “celebrated the penetration of a quantifying materialism.”Footnote 43 He buttressed the links forged by the psycho-physiologists between mind and body as he sought to demonstrate empirically a correlation between “monstrousness” and criminality. As David G. Horn explains:

For Lombroso, what truly distinguished the modern era from all that had come before was the triumph of “the number” over the “vague opinions, prejudices, and vain theories” that had circulated from the folk to the learned community and back again. Among these was the conviction—shared by the masses and the greatest physiologists and psychologists—that there was an “immeasurable abyss” between the world of “life and intelligence” and the world of “brute materiality.” But numbers, he observed in a volume on weather and mental illness, had been able to bridge the abyss, entering “with their marvellous power” even into the “mysterious world of life and the intellect.”Footnote 44

The influences of physiognomy and phrenology on Lombroso’s thinking are obvious and were recognized by the criminal anthropologist himself, but the impact of Quetelet’s use of social statistics was even more profound.Footnote 45 Given the influences of these three popular concepts, it is unsurprising that Lombroso’s work was so influential in the late nineteenth century even though his most famous book Criminal Man (1876) is still yet to be translated fully into English.Footnote 46 Britain and America were, after all, already primed for empirical investigation of the link between physical difference and criminal behaviour by both the popularity of sciences of physiognomy and phrenology and the prominence of physically aberrant criminal characters in literary works—as attested to in studies by David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder and by Quayson.Footnote 47 Neil Davie shows us that despite an explicit resistance to Lombroso’s theories exhibited by many British criminologists, they were met with favourable reaction by a number of notable British writers on psychology, including not only Francis Galton and Havelock Ellis but also asylum-based psychiatrists on the margins of the criminal-justice system, including Thomas Clouston (of the Edinburgh Royal Asylum), Samuel Strahan (of the Northampton County Asylum), and Alfred F. Tredgold (author of the widely read textbook Mental Deficiency [1908]).Footnote 48 Though Lombroso’s theories were certainly controversial, they were very much part of the social consciousness at the fin de siècle in both Britain and America. The deviant body became an increasingly centralized topic as anxieties about the physically aberrant grew. Such a process of marginalization reinforced the dominance of physical wholeness.

In addition to the feared criminal traits of those who displayed physical difference, the premium on physical integrity was also bolstered by medical and folkloric views that saw the aberrant body as a potential threat to normative society. Drawing on disability theorist Tobin Siebers’s framework of the “evil eye event”—a dynamic in which “accusation exaggerates” physical and mental differences “until they take on a supernatural dimension”—Susan M. Schweik shows how late nineteenth-century unsightly begging laws sought to protect the normate, in particular women, from bearing witness to dismembered or deformed beggars.Footnote 49 Schweik reveals that fears proliferated stemming from a belief that seeing physically atypical people could have pathological effects on women, producing symptoms such as “seizures, hysteria, or ‘conniption’ [a fit of hysterics].”Footnote 50 Anxieties surrounding “maternal impression”—the theory that if a pregnant woman witnessed a person with a deformity, the “shock” caused by such an encounter could result in her unborn child bearing a similar “affliction”—also thrived in this period. As Jan Bondeson shows us, 170 articles on maternal impression appeared in US scientific journals between 1839 and 1920.Footnote 51 Underlining the intolerance of Western society to witnessing physical difference in real life, Schweik shows us how several American cities criminalized the display of perceived ugliness in public spaces during the late nineteenth century.Footnote 52 Though such abominable legislation did not appear in Britain in the same period, similar fears existed there. Martha Stoddard Holmes explains that amidst an environment in which many conflicting theories arose, “any physical impairment had the potential to be perceived as transmissible by contact; by miasmic air; by a combination of contact, environment, and individual constitution; or perhaps simply by the social class into which one was born.”Footnote 53 The sheer variety of explanations listed by Holmes reveals the level of anxiety that surrounded the supposed risk of becoming physically disabled in Victorian Britain.

Legal and Social Factors

Linked to Quetelet’s drive for standardization, another event that contributed much to anxieties surrounding physical difference was the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. The Amendment Act introduced a centralized system to manage administering relief to the poor. The new system was brought about, at least in part, in response to fears from social reformers that the decentralized parish-based system of poor relief implemented by the Elizabethan poor laws was inconsistent and, at times, misused. The new system sent able-bodied men seeking relief to the workhouse while providing limited out-relief to those deemed deserving—namely, those unable to work, including the young, the elderly, and the disabled. Despite this tightening of the law, as Holmes reveals, fears of abuse remained. Much discussion about the extent to which the unwaged disabled were deserving of relief perpetuated as a result.Footnote 54 This context is discussed in more detail in Chap. 4, which considers anxieties about physical completeness alongside social mobility, but it is worth noting at this point that the act brought public attention to the ability of aberrant bodies, the classifying of such bodies, and an association of physical difference with mendicancy.

Changing meanings of work further exacerbated links between physical difference and an inability to work, a factor that had severe implications for men—the primary breadwinners in this period. Works such as Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present (1843) and Samuel Smiles’s Self Help (1859) were influential as they propounded the importance of industriousness and renounced idleness.Footnote 55 John Tosh plots the rise of this ideology between the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1884, when suspicions surrounding privilege gained momentum and faith in the idea of individual autonomy took its place.Footnote 56 Such an emphasis on autonomy and industry meant that those exhibiting physical difference were seen as lacking the necessary attributes to succeed in life. Erin O’Connor explains that “Victorian ideals of health, particularly of male health, centered on the concept of physical wholeness: a strong, vigorous body was a primary signifier of manliness, at once testifying to the existence of a correspondingly strong spirit and providing that spirit with a vital means of material expression.”Footnote 57 As we learn from Henham’s “The Human Bundle,” where the maimed man is branded “a lump of breathing, useless flesh,” for men especially, physical difference was seen as an indicator of a subject’s inability to work.Footnote 58 This was the case on both sides of the Atlantic. “Nowhere is the disabled figure more troubling to American ideology,” writes Garland-Thomson, “than in relation to the concept of work.”Footnote 59 Highlighting public curiosity surrounding the ability of atypical bodies to work, Garland-Thomson elsewhere observes that amputees performing the most commonplace of tasks became public spectacles: “the ‘Armless’ or ‘Legless Wonders’ who performed mundane tasks like sewing, writing, riding a bicycle, or drinking tea [in freak shows] were at once routine and amazing, both assuringly domestic and threateningly alien.”Footnote 60 While the public were fascinated by and yet unsure of the working capacities of physically incomplete subjects, as O’Connor shows, contemporary prosthetists sought to cash in on prejudices by producing devices that could enable disabled men to return to work.Footnote 61

While physically incomplete men were often believed to be unable to work, a point evidenced in autobiographical memoirs by disabled factory workers, such as A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd (1841), women missing body parts were regularly represented as unmarriageable and thus not useful in terms of procreation or social obligations—they were seen as part of the “superfluous women” problem.Footnote 62 Exceptions to this trend were imagined in literary sources, such as Wilkie Collins’s Poor Miss Finch (1872), a topic that Holmes discusses at length in Fictions of Affliction (2004).Footnote 63 But in reality, barriers existed that made it difficult for physically and cognitively different women to enter the marriage market. For instance, contemporary medical science sometimes linked physical aberrance to hereditary illness and deformity, raising concerns about women exhibiting physical losses entering the arena of marriage. I focus specifically on these contexts and how anxieties surrounding women with atypical bodies were exacerbated and interrogated by literary depictions in Chap. 5.

In addition to these concerns, the idea was also prevalent that physical wholeness comprised a full head of hair and a complete set of teeth. Galia Ofek notes how hair “became increasingly significant to the formation of self-image since the growth of the European city and the ascendance of the bourgeoisie in the early stages of mercantile capitalism.” During the nineteenth century, “among the middle classes in Victorian England, women’s hair turned into a salient focal point as fashion dictates and social mores prohibited bare hands, legs, and other parts which were covered for modesty’s sake, thereby turning hair, neck, and shoulders into the ‘focus of sexual interest’ which substituted ‘for all the rest.’”Footnote 64 This explains, to some extent, the significance of hair among women, but what about its significance for men? It is true that men’s haircuts grew shorter and less ornate during the nineteenth century. But displaying a full head of hair was still important for men as baldness signified physical decline, something that they were keen to ward off. In Kay Heath’s discussion of male-midlife anxieties, she analyses an advertisement for the Edwardian “hair grower” Tatcho in which maker George R. Sims challenges British men with the headline, “Bald, grey, or sparse of Hair: what are your chances in life?”Footnote 65 Quoting the advertisement, Heath writes, “baldness ‘is a touchy subject with most men,’ because age can be determined by hair rather than years: while a shiny pate make one ‘old at thirty,’ ‘with a good head of hair’ a man ‘may look young at fifty.’” As Heath shows us, in a time when “concepts like occupation and physical prowess replaced traditional notions of privilege to determine the measure of a man,” it became less desirable for men to display accepted signs of old age in public spaces.Footnote 66

Meanwhile, the demand for a full set of clean, healthy teeth gained purchase as urbanization and the promises of capitalism encouraged individuals to “cultivate good surface impressions.”Footnote 67 M. D. K. Bremner has noted that the demand for perfect teeth was first cultivated in modern society in early eighteenth-century France: “High society developed a pagan view of life. Beauty became the dominant note of the age. Well-to-do people sought health, comfort and good looks and tried above all to retain their youth. Since a toothless face can look neither young nor beautiful, there was great demand for dentistry.”Footnote 68 Pioneering dentist Pierre Fauchard reaped the rewards of such a culture, but it was not until the 1840s that dentistry began to professionalize more widely across Europe and North America.Footnote 69 The rise of dentistry at this time shows the impact and prevalence of physiognomy in the early to mid-Victorian period. As Karen Halttunen notes, advice manuals published between 1830 and 1850 implored readers to take care of their personal appearances: “Surface impressions were essential to success in the world of strangers … because appearances revealed character.”Footnote 70 The desire for good teeth was exacerbated by the sheer volume of advertisements for teeth-related products that potential consumers in Britain and America were bombarded with—in particular following the Great Exhibition of 1851.Footnote 71 M. Cox et al. observe that “Patented tinctures and powders proliferated … particularly in response to periodontal [gum] disease and [to aid] the removal of calculus [tartar, a hardened form of plaque].”Footnote 72 Peter A. Reichart meanwhile draws attention to the prevalence of the Areca nut in popular tooth pastes and powders.Footnote 73 Simulated by major developments in dentistry—including the introduction of anaesthesia and the use of vulcanite, a cheap and easy material to work with to manufacture false teeth bases—the mandate for good teeth was so great that by 1877 one journalist wrote:

Natural teeth, clean, sound, and perfect, are essential to the comeliness of any human face. Defective teeth mar the handsomest features and cause us to turn away our gaze with a kind of disgust from a countenance otherwise faultlessly beautiful. Sound teeth not only add to the comfort and personal appearance, but contribute largely to the health of all, hence special and scrupulous attention should be paid to them daily, from early childhood, from the time when the first permanent tooth makes its appearance about the sixth year.Footnote 74

To make a good first impression in a world where cultivating an appearance of physical wholeness was of growing importance, a good set of teeth became a fundamental requirement.

Literatures of Loss

Literary sources captured the ableist zeitgeist of the period while raising new anxieties concerning the neurological symptoms of physical loss. Ground in research on the intimacy of mind and body (especially the role of the nervous system as the joining matter between the two), the arrival of phantom limb syndrome into public discourse via literary fiction further exacerbated social fears of bodily loss. Coined in 1871 by the American neurologist and fiction writer Silas Weir Mitchell, phantom-limb syndrome describes the common sensation whereby, when a limb has been amputated, “the sufferer does not lose consciousness of its existence.”Footnote 75 Mitchell’s coinage stands to this day as the recognized term to describe this condition. According to Mitchell, phantom-limb sensations were so frequent that only five per cent of amputees did not experience them.Footnote 76 Mitchell suggested that this condition could manifest itself in several ways. It could cause symptoms such as a feeling that a lost limb was still attached and functioning; intense pain at an extremity no longer there; itchiness of a lost extremity; a feeling of “perpetual … automatic activity”; and a sensation of the “shortening of the absent member.”Footnote 77 As Mitchell explains:

Since the stump is the lowest visible point where pain or touch is felt, the sensorium or central organ of feeling gradually associates in place the lost hand or foot with the stump, the most remote existing part, impressions on which are referred to the lost limb. Hence arises a notion of shortening in the absent member—an idea which is more and more faintly contradicted by previous knowledge, and more and more reinforced by present subjective sensations.Footnote 78

In other words, Mitchell suggests that the visual and haptic senses become confused because of nerve damage to the severed limb, leading to a sensation whereby an outer extremity becomes associated with the end of a stump.

Some of these symptoms were known to medical practitioners long before Mitchell’s work on the topic. He noted himself that Ambroise Paré, a sixteenth-century pioneer of amputation and prosthetics, referred to these kinds of sensation in his work on limb loss.Footnote 79 But it was Mitchell’s own fictional account of a quadruple amputee in 1866 that brought public attention to this medical topic. Prior to his coinage, other nineteenth-century medical practitioners, like Wilhelm Gottfried Ploucquet, Jeremais David Reuss, François Xanvier Swediaur, Gabriel Valentin, Thomas Young, Godofredus Theodatus Rhone, Johannes Müller, and Charles Bell, all wrote about phantom limbs, but none captured the public imagination in the same way as Mitchell.Footnote 80 The latter used literature as a tool to communicate his ideas to a wider audience, capitalizing on the popularity of the Gothic mode, while exploiting and further developing social anxieties regarding the loss of limbs.

Published anonymously, Mitchell’s “The Case of George Dedlow” (1866), a sketch about a man who lost all four of his limbs during the American Civil War, humorously explored some of the neurological, psychological, and ontological implications of amputation.Footnote 81 Much to Mitchell’s amazement, this sketch, which poses itself as a kind of medical report, was considered factual by many readers. According to Mitchell, “Inquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the sufferer, and in an interior county of New York a subscription was actually started for the unhappy victim.”Footnote 82 While Mitchell was careful to distance himself from this short story by providing a corrective in his later article “Phantom Limbs” (1871), there were significant parallels between the symptoms described by the fictional George Dedlow and Mitchell’s medical explanation. Though Dedlow does not define the condition that he describes as “phantom-limb” syndrome in Mitchell’s literary work, his observations regarding the limb consciousness that he and the other inpatients at the Stump Hospital (Nashville, Tennessee) experience, in combination with the various sensations described—itching, pains, and cramps—bear uncanny resemblance to those parsed in the author’s later medical piece.Footnote 83 In a slightly more figurative way than in “Phantom Limbs,” using Dedlow as a mouthpiece, Mitchell ventriloquially explains the neurological phenomenon of phantom limbs in layman’s terms, using a simile of a bell-wire to explain why a sensation of a lost limb remains after it has been removed. As Dedlow suggests, a severed nerve present in a stump is a like a bell-wire because it can be stimulated at any part of its course and still produce a signal at its extremity. Mitchell makes the same point in “Phantom Limbs,” using the more relatable and bodily example of the sensation experienced when we hurt our “crazy-bone” (now known in the United Kingdom and the United States by the colloquial term the “funny-bone”).Footnote 84 While Mitchell’s essay explained phantom-limb pain in a more intricate, medicalized way, the two pieces described many of the same neurological symptoms of limb loss. In fact, the only aspects arising from “George Dedlow” that Mitchell really refuted in his article were: first, the possibility of surviving quadruple amputation; second, the fact that phantom-limb pain only occurs in poorly formed stumps; and, third, that such extreme psychological states can be produced by amputations—Dedlow experiences delight while believing that he is united with his missing limbs at a spiritualistic séance before slipping into a dreary state of unhappiness.

The very symptoms of phantom-limb pain described by Mitchell reaffirmed beliefs in the importance of embodied wholeness. Mitchell’s works revealed to relatively ignorant readers that losing a limb resulted not only in the loss of function of that part but also in severe and sometimes debilitating neurological symptoms. Losing a limb took on greater meaning as it represented a disruption of the overall structural unity of the body. By emphasizing the existence of muscular memory, a phenomenon that O’Connor suggests allowed artificial limbs to function, Mitchell’s research into stump pathology suggested that phantom-limb pain was a product of the body’s refusal to accept dismemberment, again bringing into focus both the nervous link between mind and body and the perceived importance of physical integrity.Footnote 85 However, complicating the premium placed on physical wholeness, stumps often had to be re-amputated to cure some amputees of severe phantom-limb symptoms. Mitchell described an example whereby this course of action was required in Injuries of the Nerves (1872).Footnote 86

O’Connor draws our attention to the feminizing implications of the pathological stumps associated with phantom-limb disorder.Footnote 87 Revealing the heavily gendered view of contemporary medical practitioners, O’Connor quotes John Erichsen, who in his 1854 treatise The Science and Art of Surgery associated “pathologically constituted stumps” with “feminine susceptibility.” According to Erichsen, most serious cases of intense stump pain and twitching arose “from constitutional causes, and invariably occurs in females, more particularly in those of the hysterical temperament, and who are subject to neuralgic pains elsewhere.”Footnote 88 As O’Connor argues:

The notion that stump pathology is not only feminine, but female, had far-reaching consequences for medical and social understandings of the male amputee, whose manhood was thereby implicated in an effeminate pain pattern. Altering the body in ways that were as psychically threatening as they were physically therapeutic, amputation raised the possibility that cutting off a man’s limb could cut a man off from himself.Footnote 89

O’Connor’s concern is the male amputee. It is true that “jumpy stumps” presented a supposedly feminizing threat to male amputees, but the implications of such on female amputees should not be overlooked.Footnote 90 Jane Wood has noted how hysteria was a condition “whose clinical criteria could be modified to diagnose all the behaviours which did not fit the prescribed model of Victorian womanhood.”Footnote 91 Female amputees were rendered even further from ideals of womanhood by neurotic stumps. The spasmodic and wild behaviour of such stumps exhibited the negative traits against which ideal womanhood was defined, providing an additional symptom of loss that female (as well as male) amputees needed to conceal to pass. The exposure of phantom-limb syndrome to a public audience therefore exacerbated fears of limb loss to both male and female readers.

In addition to works such as Erichsen’s, which show that pathological stumps were part of medical consciousness before Mitchell’s work on the topic, other literary writings, such as Frederick Marryat’s Jacob Faithful (1834) and Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865), exhibited the curious and confounding behaviour of amputated stumps.Footnote 92 Though published before Mitchell’s nuanced work on the topic, these stories fostered fears of bodily loss as they presented stumps as unruly and perplexing. Marryat’s Jacob Faithful, a popular bildungsroman for children, features a character named Old Tom, a double-amputee naval veteran who lost his legs fighting in the battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars. While Old Tom can be considered an archetypical good prosthesis-using navy veteran—alongside later fictional examples such as Dickens’s Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son (1846–1848) and Gruff and Glum from Our Mutual Friend—what is unique about Marryat’s character is that he makes manifest not only the functional limitations of primitive prostheses, which were standard for Greenwich Hospital amputees, but also the nervous peculiarities that apparently so often accompanied limb loss.Footnote 93 Much to his son Tom’s and the eponymous protagonist Jacob’s surprise, Old Tom reveals that despite being amputated above both knees, his toes give him periodic discomfort. “[S]ometimes I feel them just as plain as if they were now on, instead of being long ago in some shark’s maw,” Old Tom reveals. “At nights I has the cramp in them till it almost makes me halloo out with pain. It’s a hard thing when one has lost the sarvice of his legs, that all the feelings should remain. The doctor says as how its nervous.”Footnote 94 Here, Old Tom reveals his own excruciating experience of what would later be labelled phantom-limb pain by Mitchell. Marryat presents Old Tom’s curious, painful, and neurotic stumps as medical curios, evoking the nineteenth-century fascination with bodily abnormality exhibited in so-called freak shows.Footnote 95 Like these sideshows, Marryat’s representation simultaneously exploited and contributed to contemporary anxieties related to physical difference; aligning with Gilman’s observations, it utilized the dynamic of “healthy” observer versus pathologized observed.Footnote 96

Dickens’s depiction of Silas Wegg has been linked to Marryat’s characterization of Old Tom. Michael Cotsell, for instance, highlights the similarities of the two characters in terms of how both alter the words of songs to fit the occasion.Footnote 97 The most significant likeness in terms of the cultural construction of wholeness, however, is that both characters display phantom-limb symptoms. While reading various accounts of misers to Mr. Boffin in Chap. 6 of Book 3 in Our Mutual Friend, the amputee Wegg becomes increasingly excited. His excitement is signified by the prodding and elevation of his wooden leg: he repeatedly “peg[s]” his comrade, Mr. Venus, and his leg “start[s] forward under the table, and slowly elevate[s] itself as he read[s].”Footnote 98 These impulsive movements can be read to display self-action on the part of his prosthesis, as both Herbert Sussman and Gerhard Joseph imply regarding Captain Cuttle in Dombey and Son, or just Wegg’s comic absurdity.Footnote 99 And yet such neurotic behaviour could also be read as the result of a twitching stump, one plausibly affected by phantom-limb or jumpy-stump syndrome. In this way, we can read Dickens’s representation in context with recent research that brings to light how his fiction described conditions before they had been medically recognized.Footnote 100 The involuntary movement of Wegg’s leg eventually results in him losing balance and “dropp[ing] over sideways” onto Venus.Footnote 101

The automatous behaviour of Wegg’s peg, powered by what seems a pathologized stump, bears resemblance to the “curious spasmodic maladies” described by Mitchell in his later essay on phantom limbs.Footnote 102 Wegg is himself described as “spasmodic” when he attempts to pick himself up off the floor. The phallic resemblance of this unconscious behaviour—a body part becoming erect before reaching a violent climax and ending with the subject left in a “pecuniary swoon”—is undermined by what would have been seen as feminine, hysterical undertones.Footnote 103 His lack of self-control and compromised position at the end of this scene—where he lies on Venus in a swoon-like state—emphasizes his apparently unmanned condition as an amputee.Footnote 104 Though troubling from a contemporary perspective, this scene was clearly intended to be comical. In fact, it was not uncommon for Dickens to use physical difference for comic purposes. For instance, in Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839), the author encourages the reader to laugh at the villainous schoolmaster Wackford Squeers’s mishaps that are brought about by his lack of full peripheral vision, a functional difference that arises from him having one eye.Footnote 105 Philip Hobsbaum writes that the “Jonsonian” humour of Squeers’s representation makes tolerable what would otherwise seem an unbearable “rhetoric of indignation” towards Yorkshire schoolmasters.Footnote 106 In a similar fashion, Dickens uses grotesque comedy in Our Mutual Friend to lighten what might have otherwise appeared a frustrating story about a duplicitous “cripple” who almost upsets the status quo by climbing the social ladder (a narrative trajectory that I explore further in Chap. 4). Though at other times (even within the same narrative) much more sympathetic to issues of physical difference—think, for instance, of his representation of characters such as Esther Summerson, Joe Willet, and Captain Cuttle—in this instance, Dickens’s depiction of Wegg’s out-of-control stump exacerbates anxieties about losing limbs.Footnote 107 As we will see in Chap. 4, for the Dickens that wrote Our Mutual Friend , the amputee was at once fascinating, confounding, suspicious, and troubling. Regarding Dickens’s depiction of stump maladies, however, like Marryat’s earlier depiction and Mitchell’s literary and medical writings, it represented (and exploited for fictional purposes) real-life issues facing amputees, thereby cultivating social fears of limb loss.

Persuasive Prosthetists

Before we turn to fictional representations of prostheses in the chapters that follow, it is important to consider the position the emerging prosthesis market assumed amidst the culture described so far. Aligning with trends in patent medicine that Thomas Richards, Claire L. Jones, and Jamie Stark have described, prosthetists of all types, including makers of limbs, eyes, teeth, and hair, capitalized on growing anxieties about the body and health, in particular the increasing mandate for physical completeness.Footnote 108 As O’Connor has revealed, the notion of rebuilding amputees to a condition of wholeness was commonly evoked in nineteenth-century prosthesis discourse, especially that involving male amputees.Footnote 109 The American prosthesis firm, A. A. Marks, one of the most famous and successful makers of its time, for instance, included the following testimony from the Atlanta Christian Index and Southwestern Baptist in its catalogue: “Mr. Marks has the most skilled mechanics in his manufactory, turning out frequently a dozen or more limbs a week. It is interesting to see his patrons leave their crutches in his office, and walk off apparently whole—men, too, who had lost both legs and who were brought in by attendants” (emphasis added).Footnote 110 After purchasing one of Marks’s patented artificial legs with rubber foot, John McKenzie, a Civil War amputee, similarly testified, “I felt like a whole man again.”Footnote 111 Limb makers such as Marks were keen to assert to potential users the abilities of their devices to recomplete supposedly disaggregated bodies. Testimony pages, such as the ones from which the quotations above are extracted, were important locations where makers could communicate the quality of their devices to potential consumers without attracting accusations of quackery.Footnote 112

Artificial-limb makers were not the only ones to draw from the dominance of wholeness in their advertisements. French artificial-eye maker Auguste Boissonneau, who brought his highly rated enamel artificial eyes to Britain and Ireland in the early 1850s drew directly from many of the cultural factors described above that contributed to the stigmatization of those missing body parts. An advertisement printed in Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser in 1852 reads:

Mr. Boissonneau has succeeded in removing the physiognomical defect, which is the consequence of such a loss, by his newly-devised Artificial Eyes, which patients can apply themselves with the greatest ease. The movements of the artificial substitute are so admirable that it is hardly possible to distinguish nature from art. The use of these eyes is fully appreciated by those who are aware how much irregularities of the face mar a man’s career[.]Footnote 113

Drawing from prejudices against having one eye, including those brought about by physiognomy and concepts of work that equated supposedly unhealthy bodies with incapacity, advertisements such as this also buttressed such discrimination by presenting it as an unquestionable reality in public forums. Sources like this not only pandered to the demands of this rhetoric but sought to cash in on them by providing means with which to occlude physical difference from public view. For Boissonneau and his contemporaries, prejudices against physical incompleteness were what made their work viable in the competitive marketplace.

Advertisements for false teeth sold by firms such as Mr. P. B. André, Field and Co., and the Holborn Dental Institute, meanwhile, stressed the completeness of their devices as replacements for lost teeth.Footnote 114 Each of these firms guaranteed that their teeth “answer[ed] to the purpose for which they are intended, viz: Mastication, Articulation, and Natural Appearance.”Footnote 115 False teeth were thus pitched as prostheses that could replace both functionally and aesthetically the body part(s) that they stood in for. As we see in Chap. 6, not everyone was convinced by such claims.

Wig makers were often much bolder in their assertions, claiming that their devices could not merely supplement but enhance. An advertisement for one seller reads as follows:

VerseVerse The natural grace and adornment of these, Can’t fail to delight, but are certain to please. No sooner, in fact, are they worn by the fair, Than at once they outrival the natural Hair. ‘Tis surprising to notice how much they’re worn! If a fair-one is seen at a play or a ball, Such “Fronts” are admired by each and by all; And if the good Lady should chance to be single, She’ll shortly be hail’d by the marriage-bells’ jingle!Footnote

F. Browne, Advertisement for Professor F. Browne’s Ladies’ Toupees, n.d., EPH 154, Hair care box 1, Wellcome Lib., London.

This poem brings into focus the demand for full heads of hair but also shows how, unlike the other prostheses discussed in this book, artificial hair was not just used to stand in for something missing. False fronts and trusses were popular adornments for women, especially in the 1860s when the fashion for artificial hair was at its height. Hair enhancers and replacements, like false fronts, false chignons (artificial curls), wigs, toupees, and other hair pieces became so popular that, in 1849, 6200 pounds of human hair—which was the most popular manufacturing material for these bodily accoutrements—was imported to England from France alone.Footnote 117 From 1855 to 1868, sales of false hair went up by 400 per cent, showing the increasing popularity of artificiality.Footnote 118 By 1880, London alone was said to annually consume over 100,000 pounds of human hair.Footnote 119 The popularity of artificial hair at the mid-century shifted accepted standards for women’s hair. The prevalence of additional hair pieces meant that, temporarily, the concept of completeness enveloped an expectation that women would have more hair than most were able to grow naturally. Although, as Ofek has demonstrated, artificial hair was a technology treated with suspicion even when it was at its most popular, its prevalence at the mid-century meant that the whole body upon which the concept of normalcy was shaped temporarily became one with an unnatural abundance of hair.Footnote 120 This trend reveals the arbitrary, constructed, and historically contingent nature of physical norms.

The way that prostheses were marketed as devices that could remove the visual presence of physical difference is of course questionable, and it is worth drawing attention to this before exploring the ways in which literature responded to these technologies. We can consider the process of prostheticizing the aberrant body to enable it to pass as a kind of rehabilitation process, a concept that irks many disability-studies scholars and activists. Not quite as abhorrent as eugenics, but based on a similar premise of erasure, rehabilitation seeks to remove physical difference from sight. As Henri-Jacques Stiker explains, “rehabilitation marks the appearance of a culture that attempts to complete the act of identification, of making identical. This act will cause the disabled to disappear, dissolve them in the greater and single social whole.”Footnote 121 I do not wish to dismiss the reality of difficulties stemming from impairment or to undermine the importance of creating technologies that make the lives of people with disabilities easier or less painful. But it is an undoubted historical trend, evidenced by the marketing ploys described above, that the production of prostheses has often supported ideological—eradicating the visual presence of difference—and capitalistic rather than solely ameliorative and/or altruistic ends.

As this chapter has revealed, the nineteenth century witnessed the codification of a social system that privileged physical wholeness and marginalized those who displayed physical difference. Several historical factors encouraged and strengthened this situation, including the rise of bodily statistics, the growth of physiognomy, the development of Poor Law legislation, the solidification of ableist models of work, the advances of materialist approaches to mind and body, the publicity of bewildering symptoms of bodily loss, and the vogue for white teeth and full heads of hair. In such a society, prosthesis makers, whose businesses during this time benefited from a growing knowledge of the human body, technological developments, and innovations in hygiene and surgical procedures, cashed in on such demands for physical wholeness by providing devices that they claimed could conceal physical deficiency from public view, thereby allowing users to pass as normal. In contrast, as I will show, fictional representations of prostheses held a complex relationship with the emerging hegemony of wholeness. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 explore how this complex negotiation with the concept of wholeness played out in relation to representational factors including class, gender, and age. The next chapter, however, showcases how certain prosthesis narratives problematized the contemporary hegemony of physical completeness by imagining powerful non-normative and non-human alternatives. If we consider the use of prostheses inspired by a medical-model understanding of physical difference, the following chapters provide examples of Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky’s claim that “[the] ‘medical model’, powerful though it has been in shaping the life experiences of people with disabilities, has never gone uncontested.”Footnote 122