From "Freak Show" to "Charity Case": The "Containment" of Deafness in Wilkie Collins's Hide and Seek

By Anglin-Jaffe, Hannah | Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

From "Freak Show" to "Charity Case": The "Containment" of Deafness in Wilkie Collins's Hide and Seek


Anglin-Jaffe, Hannah, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies


The article explores the representation of deafness, and in particular the deaf character Madonna/Mary, in Wilkie Collins's nineteenth-century novel Hide and Seek. The argument is that Madonna's rescue from a circus and adoption into the safety of a middle-class home transforms her from "freak show" into "charity case" through a discourse of paternalism. This process of containment parallels wider transitions in how deafness was understood socially in the late nineteenth century. Drawing on the history of deaf education and using Foucault's concepts of emergence and confinement, the article argues that this mirrors the transition from manual to oralist approaches to deaf education in this period.

The novel Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins offers the opportunity to explore the representation of deafness in the nineteenth-century British novel. The novel features a deaf heroine, Madonna/Mary, and imagines in detail the experience of deafness. I interpret the novel through the lens of deaf studies in order to offer a new reading of this neglected text. In particular I am interested in how the portrayal of Madonna compares to preceding and succeeding models of deafness. I explore the interplay of ideas about deafness and disability, building on theorists such as Lennard Davis, Martha Stoddard Holmes, David Mitchell, David Bolt, and Tom Shakespeare, who have argued that disability and deafness are culturally constructed rather than self-evident representations of reality. As Julia Rodas has argued,

the presence of disability in Victorian fiction indicates more than a mere reflection of actual disabled persons in the culture. It points also to an underlying anxiety and ambivalence regarding this presence, a grappling with identity, a desire to experiment with places and roles. (372)

Taking this as my starting point, I focus on deafness as a contradictory spectacle of difference that ambivalently engages with discourses of "containment." I concentrate on the circus as the context in which deafness is constructed and ogled in order to explore the relationship between deafness, sensationalism, and spectacle. In conclusion I argue that the process of containment parallels the wider transition from manualist to oralist education in how deafness was understood socially in the period.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek, Collins's third novel, was first published in 1854 and reissued in 1861. It contains detailed reflections about the experience of being deafened, the loss of spoken language, sign language, theories about the causation of deafness, attitudes toward deaf education, and attitudes to deafness and deaf people in general. Disability and deafness were themes that Collins frequently returned to in his work. Esmail argues that "Collins is one of the Victorian novelists most interested in how diverse bodies intersect with text, most attentive to the issue of disability, and most committed to resisting the pathologization of disabled people" (996-97). Many of Collins's novels include characters with impairments, both as main characters, for example in Poor Miss Finch and The Law and the Lady, and as minor characters in his other works, such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

Hide and Seek is concerned with the mystery of the identity of the character Madonna, known as Mary in childhood, who is deaf1 and does not speak but signs when communicating with hearing characters (144). The novel has two parts and "Book I" establishes the domestic arrangements of the Blyth household, introducing Valentine Blyth, an artist; Mrs Blyth, his wife, who is described as an "invalid"; and the young lady Madonna, or Mary, their adopted daughter. The plot focuses on the discovery of Madonna's biological parents and the circumstances that led to her being orphaned and abandoned. In the first book the narration moves from the present day in which Madonna is a young lady in Valentine's household to recollections of Madonna's childhood as an orphan in the circus, the accident that caused her deafness, and the unusual circumstances by which Valentine came to adopt her. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

From "Freak Show" to "Charity Case": The "Containment" of Deafness in Wilkie Collins's Hide and Seek
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.