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Just before dawn on January 9, 1800, a mysterious creature emerged from a forest in southern France. Although he was human in form and walked upright, his habits were those of a young male animal. He was wearing only a tattered shirt, but did not seem troubled by the cold. Showing no modesty about his nakedness, he ate greedily, seizing roasted potatoes from a hot fire. He seemed to have no language skills, only grunting occasionally. A cause célèbre developed over the question of what should be done with this puzzling wild boy. People wondered: Could he learn to speak? Or be taught to eat with a knife and fork?
In THE FORBIDDEN EXPERIMENT, the award-winning cultural historian Roger Shattuck offers a captivating account of this fascinating episode in intellectual history. He examines the relationships that developed among the boy, soon named Victor; Madame Guerin, the woman who fed and washed him; and Itard, the tutor who defiled his colleagues who believed the boy was hopelessly retarded. Shattuck helps modern readers form many of the questions that still haunt parents, special education teachers, guidance counselors, and all students of human behavior to this day: How do children acquire language? How do deaf and mute children learn? Can children who have been neglected or abused ever learn to trust the world? Like a true-life tale of adventure rolled into a detective story, Roger Shattuck's riveting account of the Wild Boy of Aveyron is an unforgettable telling of one of history's greatest mystery stories.