In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.
In rescuing this important historical account and recreating the life of an obscure but potent figure, Weygand and Kudlick have awakened a perspective that transcends time and which, ultimately, remaps our inherent ideas of physical sensibility
About the Author
Catherine J. Kudlick is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, and author of Cholera in Post-Revolutionary Paris: A Cultural History.
Dr. Zina Weygand is a researcher at the Laboratoire Brigitte Frybourg pour l'insertion Sociale des Personnes Handicape'es at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Me'tiers in Paris and is author of numerous articles on the history of blind people in France.
Read an Excerpt
On the Gait and Demeanor of the Blind
I shall first speak of how we walk, which is considered trembling and uncertain. Forgive me, dear reader, if I dare to say frankly that this is less our fault than it is that of those who surround us. When a very young blind child makes a few steps on his own, his parents or his friends hasten to tell him in a tone easily recognized as horror, "Be careful, you will hurt yourself; if I were you I wouldn't dare take such risks!" These warnings, which come from people with only the most loving of intentions, inspire in us suspicion, even terror that is impossible to overcome. The people charged with looking after us would render an important service by protecting us at an early age against such fears that so often are only imaginary. I anticipate the response of my readers, who are convinced that blind people should always remain in a state of complete immobility. Watching the blind walking or doing things will naturally lead those who watch over us with affectionate interest to assume that we are in danger, but this exists only in their imagination. One couldn't be more useful to us than by accustoming us from childhood on to walk without a guide, and by building up our courage with kind and reassuring words from the earliest age. In my family no one ever stopped repeating over and over, "Don't be afraid of anything, I'm watching over you." So I placed all my confidence in this promise, and I played happily with girls my own age.
Since I've promised to speak sincerely, I should also add that acertain degree of coquettishness also enters into how we carry ourselves, and here I speak only of female companions of misfortune. When we are confident enough to be clothed in a pretty dress and dainty shoes, decked out in these luxurious things, which mean as much to us as they do to people who see, we wouldn't want to sit or stand the way we are used to and the way we think we should because we're so worried about how we might look. For us it seems like the slightest movement will alter the beauty of our clothes. This fear gives us the appearance of being extremely self-conscious, a terrible embarrassment spreads over us, the source of which remains a mystery for those who look at us; instead they attribute our awkwardness to the griefs brought by our afflicted situation. We thus inspire tender emotions as people console us, feel sorry for us, when in fact they should be punishing our pride. It's surely because of the pretty dress and pretty shoes that we don't even dare to take a step, even being guided. Our guide will not even notice the elegance of our finery, which water and pebbles will surely ruin. This fear increases our mistrust, and it's only with difficulty that we put one foot in front of the other. Our apprehensions gradually slow down our gait and make it uneven, which has always led me to believe that we must tire the person who offers us the help of his arm. I was never allowed to forget that we carry ourselves rigidly. Nothing could be further from the truth, but if we lean backwards, it's easy to imagine, given how suspicious and fearful we are naturally, how much we dread bumping into objects in our way. I also know that people reproach us for tilting our heads upwards, but I will respond that this position comes from the rigidity of how we carry ourselves. I've thought seriously about how I could eliminate these faults, which result from deeply ingrained habits. All my efforts have been fruitless, and I no longer flatter myself with the hope of seeing them crowned with success.
Excerpted from Reflections by Thérèse-Adèle Husson. Copyright © 2001 by New York University. Excerpted by permission.
Table of Contents
|II.||Reflections on the Physical and Moral Condition of the Blind||15|
|III.||Note on the Author's Youth||67|
|IV.||Reflections on a Manuscript, a Life, and a World||75|
|About the Authors||155|
What People are Saying About This
"Offering insight into the compelling history of people with disabilities, this is one of the earliest accounts written by someone with an actual disability rather than by an observer or educator."
"A brief but fascinating glimpse into the role of women, religion, disability and notions of the self in early 19th-century France."
"Both Husson's autobiographical writing and Kudlick's and Weygand's short social history of the blight of the blind in nineteenth-century France will interest anyone whose work or intellectual interests lie in the field of modern disability studies."