Creating a Binary-Free World: H.G. Wells and Disability Studies

Tyrrell, Brenda
Major Professor
Jeremy Withers
Committee Member
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My thesis is positioned at the intersection of H.G. Wells and disability studies and discusses two aspects of Wells’s expansive literary career: Wells’s progressive approach to disability when compared to other authors of his time and how Wells can, and should, be considered an avatar for current disability studies scholarship. In order to accomplish these tasks, I first consider Wells in his own epoch and how he depicts his disabled characters in three different texts. To aid the understanding of the significance of Wells’s work, I discuss the deconstruction method of literary theory, as well as examine the normal/abnormal binary in disability studies, to situate the reader in the work of this thesis.

Next, using two short stories, “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” (1895) and “The Country of the Blind (1904, 1939),” I discuss Wells’s unusual approach to the vision/blindness binary. Similarly, by exploring the novel Christina Alberta’s Father (1925), I showcase Wells’s disruption of the mental health binary of sane/insane. Added to these analyses is a comparison between Wells and his contemporaries who are writing about the same topics (blindness and mental health) and what Wells does that is distinctly different in terms of depicting disability from these other authors, in order to lay the groundwork for the next step of my work.

The second aspect of this thesis is applying the above findings to the current disability studies tenets to reveal where Wells is, in fact, progressive and even anticipatory, in his characterization of his disability. I posit that, through these texts, Wells subverts and destabilizes all binaries of the chosen disability topics he undertakes and, in the process, disrupts the normal/abnormal binary underlying the tenets of disability studies and that are at the heart of the ongoing resistance to the disability studies movement found yet today.