There has probably never been a child who so intrigued a continent as Kaspar Hauser. The subject of numerous books and films, this famous "wild child" surfaced in Nuremberg in 1828, a largely illiterate, unsocialized adolescent. He had no recollection of a family or a home. For over 12 years he had been imprisoned in a kind of cage, where he was fed only bread and water and denied all human contact. He never saw the face of his captor. Possibly the legitimate heir to the throne of Baden, he was murdered in 1832 by an unknown assailant. In an essay of about 70 pages, psychoanalyst Masson (coauthor of When Elephants Weep, 1995) combs through the available literature to differentiate apparently accurate accounts of Hauser's short life from those that are speculative and tendentious. He offers a credible if not conclusive theory about who murdered Hauser and why. The longest text in this volume is the first complete English translation (by Masson) of an account by Judge Anselm von Feuerbach, whose court had jurisdiction over the Hauser case. Also included is a translation by Masson of an autobiographical sketch by the child-man himself, who after his release apparently learned basic language skills remarkably well. Masson places Hauser's great suffering within the broader context of child abuse during the 19th and 20th centuries, which, he argues, was both widespread and almost universally denied. Unfortunately, he also digresses at points and introduces questionable data. For example, Masson (for whom sexual abuse of girls was a central tenet in his controversial l984 book The Assault on Truth) claims that "about 38 percent of women have been sexually abused by the time they reach the age of eighteen." But he offers no definition of "sexually abused" and no corroborating data.
However, Masson's examination will introduce many American readers to one of the great case studies of extreme cruelty and deprivation, and of the remarkable human capacity for adaptability.
- Free Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.98(w) x 8.59(h) x 0.98(d)
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
This is the type of book that stays with you, weeks, months, maybe even years after you've read it. The 19th century historical tale has elements of gothic romaniticism: a lost prince, a boy (Kaspar Hauser) growing up in complete isolation, whose past is a mystery, hints of royal lineage, and the sinister lurkings of jealousy and treachery. Masson probes the mystery with the insight of 20th century background in the psychology of child abuse and it's repercussions. The story is compelling, the details engrossing, the insights enlightening. But the title says it's an unsolved mystery, and the story lives up to the claim. The abrupt finish to the book left me hanging, wishing Masson could have given us just a little more, before sending us back into our own cold cruel world, after leaving Kaspar Hauser's.