Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Reorienting the Bildungsroman: Progress Narratives, Queerness, and Disability in The History of Sir Richard Calmady and Jude the Obscure

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2017), 11, (2), 151–168.

Abstract

This article examines intersections of disability and queerness in the context of Victorian narratives about progress, legacies, and heritability. While late nineteenth-century Britain suffered unease about failed inheritances and the precarious futures of individuals, families, and nation, the popular genre of the Bildungsroman provided progress narratives that reinforced Victorian ideals of development and improvement. The project examines two examples whose protagonists are influenced by inherited curses: Lucas Malet’s The History of Sir Richard Calmady and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Following Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, the essay explores how these novels orient their protagonists in the world and asks: how do queerness and disability operate in these texts, making certain kinds of lives and movement possible while foreclosing others? Ultimately, the article demonstrates how, in these unique Bildungsromane, the inherited curse does not reinforce but works against a genre otherwise characterized by impulses to enforce normalcy through compulsory ablebodiedness and compulsory reproductive heterosexuality. Thus, the curses in Calmady and Jude offer unlikely opportunities to challenge conventional narratives about progress, queerness, and disability.

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Ehnenn, Jill