Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of Victor, the Savage of Aveyron

Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of Victor, the Savage of Aveyron

by Gerstein
     
 

"As the French revolutionaries begin time anew with year one of the new calendar, a feral child, who has somehow survived on his own in the wild, is delivered into the hands of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor and teacher of deaf children in Paris...Readers will be mesmerized and even stirred by the questions Gerstein raises and attempts to answer."-Pointer/Kirkus

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Overview

"As the French revolutionaries begin time anew with year one of the new calendar, a feral child, who has somehow survived on his own in the wild, is delivered into the hands of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor and teacher of deaf children in Paris...Readers will be mesmerized and even stirred by the questions Gerstein raises and attempts to answer."-Pointer/Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In southern France in 1800, hunters capture a naked, filthy and speechless pre-adolescent boy, whom they bring into town slung from a pole. Eventually he is taken to Paris and placed in a school for deaf boys. There his alleged obliviousness to anything but food and nature cause doctors to label him an idiot, and he languishes, ignored, until a young doctor, Jean-Marc Itard, takes the boy into his care. Drawing on historical sources, Gerstein gives an arresting account of Itard's variously enlightened and bumbling (at times, cruel) efforts to socialize the boy, whom he names Victor, and to control his subsequent "explosive puberty." This makes for compelling intellectual and social history, with a vividly limned setting, peppered with disquieting ruminations on the nature of humanity, God, love and sexuality, as well as gruesome tidbits about the French Revolution. As a novel, however, it is ultimately unsatisfying because Gerstein jumps ahead in time from the close of Itard's six-year study of Victor to a penultimate scene just before the subject's untimely death at age 40. Thus, he summarily disposes of his protagonists (e.g., a melodramatic subplot involving the housekeeper's daughter reads like a cobbled-on "teen problem" story, then peters out just as it gets interesting; Itard's one romance takes place off-stage). Rather than imagining the inner life of his characters, Gerstein keeps readers at arm's length; Victor and Itard remain enigmas.
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Right after the French Revolution, a mysterious, "wild boy" was discovered and captured in the woods near a small village. Naked, filthy, seemingly impervious to cold or heat, and unresponsive to human speech, this boy, (who seemed to be about ten), was later taken to Paris and eventually cared for, taught and experimented on by a young, dedicated doctor, Jean-Marc Itard. This fascinating, beautifully written historical novel follows Itard's efforts to "civilize" the boy, who he names "Victor." Chapters from Itard's point of view alternate with those from the perspective of Victor, himself, and also, from Julie, the housekeeper's young daughter. This book could lead to lively discussions on what it means to be human, and the importance of language and culture. These complex moral and philosophical ideas and Itard's growing discomfort with Victor's sexuality, as he matures, would probably make this book more appropriate for older adolescents and adults. The author wrote and illustrated a picture book on the same subject being published at the same time; it would be a better choice for younger and middle grade readers.
VOYA - Dr. Megan Isaac
Sometime during the 1790s a young boy was lost or abandoned in the forests of southern France. Victor is the story of his capture in 1800, and the well-meaning attempts by Dr. Itard to restore the "savage" boy to civilization. Gerstein's novel illustrates the best and worst aspects of historical fiction. He recreates post-revolutionary France in rich detail-the bloody memories of the recent war, the amusingly lewd public statues ornamenting a town square, and the very earthy smells and tastes of life among the serving classes. Even more impressive are Gerstein's suspenseful descriptions of the educational methods pioneered by Dr. Itard in an attempt to teach the boy language. Dr. Itard's explorations of the processes of language acquisition and the meaning of "civilization" will also appeal to philosophically-minded readers. Unfortunately, the mysteries of the real Wild Boy of Aveyron (upon whom Victor's story is based) were never unraveled, and because Gerstein remains true to his sources, he never unveils most of Victor's secrets either. The very authenticity of this novel's conclusion may frustrate or disappoint readers. Gerstein enriches Victor's story by twinning it with the fictional life of Julie, the daughter of the servant woman who cares for Victor's physical needs. She too is in many ways a lost or abandoned child. Julie brims with all the intellectual curiosity that Victor seems to lack, but while educational opportunities are virtually forced upon him, Julie struggles to find a soul willing to teach her so much as the alphabet. The fascination and disgust Victor and Julie hold for each other will, for many young readers, be the most intriguing aspect of Gerstein's worthwhile novel. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Based on the true story of a feral child captured in Revolutionary-era France and the doctor who attempted to civilize him, Victor offers an intense and intelligent look at the nature of humanity. Caught initially by two woodcutters in rural Aveyron, the boy is sent to Paris where he is studied and an attempt is made to teach him to communicate. Young Dr. Itard dubs his charge Victor, and sees in him an opportunity to prove that "the savage" is neither an idiot, nor incapable of "learning" humanity. He begins a rigorous regimen of experiments to awaken Victor to society and give him speech. The boy's progress is slow and troubled by increasing instances of his "explosive puberty" in which his intrusive masturbation disrupts lessons and raises Itard's ire. The doctor's methods are often Pavlovian and cruel, and ultimately unjust. Itard's housekeeper is the only one to show true affection for Victor. Characters are dispassionately distanced from readers, making it difficult to sympathize with their conflicts. Itard's ego, his own sexual frustrations, and his use of his pupil as a tool toward his own success make his status as hero educator somewhat ironic. Victor, himself, remains an enigma: his thoughts, rendered in short, often incomplete sentences offer little more than delight and happiness found in a slant of sun or sweetness of a berry. Both Victor's absence of self-reflection and the doctor's selfish idealism give fuel to the question of the nature of man, but provide rather disturbing answers. A dark, often complex novel for older readers that is well worth the time, effort, and thought that the subject demands.-Jennifer A. Fakolt, Denver Public Library
Kathryn Harrison
[The] novel. . .succeeds as a rare thing, a novel of ideas of adolescents. . . -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Gerstein (The Giant) brings to this novelization of the life of the so-called savage of Aveyron a sustained intensity that proves both haunting and chastening. As the French revolutionaries begin time anew with year one of the new calendar, a feral child, who has somehow survived on his own in the wild, is delivered into the care of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor and teacher of deaf children in Paris. Itard believes he can teach the boy he names Victor; Victor learns to stay clean and dressed, to recognize objects, and to communicate in essential ways. But although he can spell some words, Victor never learns to speak. Gerstein handles language with grace, with a precision that makes tangible Victor's beautiful, silvery laugh, dark eyes, animal's quickness of movement, and profound sense of smell. The novel—which moves among Itard's point of view, Victor's, that of the deeply kind woman, Sophie Guerin, who nurtures Victor and shuns the doctor's severity, and her daughter Julie's—confronts the most basic notions of what it means to be civilized, what it means to be human, and whether a sense of justice can be imposed or learned. The story indicates that Itard failed his charge in two crucial areas: His approval was conditional on Victor's behavior; and he refused to address Victor's sexuality. Readers will be mesmerized, and even stirred by the questions Gerstein raises and attempts to answer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374381424
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
09/15/1998
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.83(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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