Fri, 18 Jan 2013 08:55:10 GMT

Dickens used literature to expose bias towards disabled

Jerusalem, Jan 17 (PTI) Famed author Charles Dickens used literature to showcase discrimination against the disabled who were "feared" and seen as "monstrous" in the 19th Century in Victorian England, according to a new research.

"Social attitudes towards the disabled can often be traced through art, from ancient times through today," said Professor Avi Ohry of Tel Aviv University''s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

In Dickens'' works, he said, readers are confronted with the stark realities of the 19th century, including poor medical care and social discrimination against the physically disabled and the mentally ill.

In a recent article for the journal Orthopedia, Traumatologia and Rehabilitacja, Ohry argued that literature was a way for Dickens to express his ideas for reform and advocate for better treatment of the disabled.

Extremely influential, Dickens'' opinions may have gone a long way towards influencing social attitudes - the first step towards improved care and non-discriminatory legislation, he said.

During Dickens'' time, disabled people were still commonly feared and seen as monstrous, explained Ohry in a statement.

In the literature of the 19th century, physical deformities were often interpreted as "outward manifestations of inner depravity" or "punishment for moral failings", he said.

And while Dickens does portray some of his disabled characters in this way, such as the greedy and ruthless Smallweed in Bleak House, many of his disabled characters are uniquely sympathetic and inspirational - a surprisingly progressive attitude, considering the era''s social prejudices towards the disabled.

Examples include the heart-tugging Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol and Phil Squod, a loyal and good-hearted servant in Bleak House, both of whom are "crippled".

Dickens also took care to differentiate between physical handicaps and mental disabilities or illness, another distinguishing feature of his work.

This kind of advanced thinking was shaped by Dickens'' real life experiences, Ohry explained.

The author''s own experience of illness and poverty, especially in early adulthood, bred a lifelong interest in medical and social conditions.

Deeply committed to alleviating the plight of the poor and a frequent visitor at both hospitals and asylums, Dickens maintained close friendships with some of the most notable reformers and doctors of his time.

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