Blindness and writing : from Wordsworth to Gissing


Blindness and writing : from Wordsworth to Gissing

Heather Tilley

(Cambridge studies in nineteenth-century literature and culture, 109)

Cambridge University Press, 2018

  • : hardback

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 255-270) and index



In this innovative and important study, Heather Tilley examines the huge shifts that took place in the experience and conceptualisation of blindness during the nineteenth century, and demonstrates how new writing technologies for blind people had transformative effects on literary culture. Considering the ways in which visually-impaired people used textual means to shape their own identities, the book argues that blindness was also a significant trope through which writers reflected on the act of crafting literary form. Supported by an illuminating range of archival material (including unpublished letters from Wordsworth's circle, early ophthalmologic texts, embossed books, and autobiographies) this is a rich account of blind people's experience, and reveals the close, and often surprising personal engagement that canonical writers had with visual impairment. Drawing on the insights of disability studies and cultural phenomenology, Tilley highlights the importance of attending to embodied experience in the production and consumption of texts.


  • Part I. Blind People's Writing Practices: 1. Writing blindness, from vision to touch
  • 2. The materiality of blindness in Wordsworth's imagination
  • 3. 'A literature for the blind': the development of raised print systems
  • 4. Memoirs of the blind: the genre of blind biographical writing
  • Part II. Literary Blindness: 5. Blindness, gender, and autobiography: reading and writing the self in Jane Eyre, Aurora Leigh, and The Life of Charlotte Bronte
  • 6. Writing blindness: Dickens
  • 7. Embodying blindness in the Victorian novel: Frances Browne's My Share of the World and Wilkie Collins' Poor Miss Finch
  • 8. Blindness, writing, and the failure of imagination in Gissing's New Grub Street.

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