Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

The Victorian Consumptive in Disability Studies

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2011), 5, (1), 17–33.


Although public health statistics suggest that by far the most prevalent impairment experienced by disabled people in nineteenth-century Britain was tuberculosis (Smith, Retreat, 19), disability historians have yet to explore the experiences of people with this impairment. The article suggests that Victorian "consumptives" may have been concealed from disability historians by the very same cultural processes that contributed to their disablement in life. While many Victorian texts misrepresented the consumptive's social disadvantage as biologically necessary or morally desirable, and consumptives themselves as "living dead" objects that willingly renounced self-determination and social inclusion, Disability Studies has hitherto failed to offer a politicized critique of the process. The article argues that the redefinition of Victorian consumptives as disabled people allows Disability Studies to reclaim images and individuals that struggled to assert a valid, self-determining, self-aware identity in a disabling society over one hundred years before the modern disability movement.

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Author details

Tankard, Alex