When I created this blog a year ago I had no idea what an adventure it would be. It started as a place to chart my research into French representations of blindness, but quickly blossomed into a way of commenting on the place of blindness - and then disability - in modern society more generally: the posts on audio description, the Paralympics and Tina Nash continue to attract interest from around the world. Alongside these current-affairs-related posts, there are also posts on my own way of living with blindness. This blog has given me a place to work out what I think about using a white cane, the shape and size of my eyes and what reading in detail really means.
But in this birthday post, I'd like to look again at my original research project. I have been spending a lot of time in the past year at the Association Valentin Hauy in Paris. Their library contains a vast collection of literature in French either by or about the blind. By gradually reading all the nineteenth-century novels they possess, I am building up a picture of how nineteenth-century France saw blindness. At first I was disappointed by what I found. Novels by blind novelist Therese-Adele Husson seemed to confirm my fears that blindness would be seen as a pitiful state characterised by emotional, financial and intellectual deprivation. As this blog has shown, this is the image of blindness usually found throughout cultural representations, from Madame Bovary to contemporary advertising and children's fiction. But as I delved deeper into the world of the nineteenth-century French novel, I found some examples of novels where the blind protagonists are capable and likable role-models. In the published work which will be the eventual fruit of this research, I will be arguing that these novels - by relatively unknown writers like Berthet and Pont-Jest - embrace the 'personal non-tragedy' approach which twentieth-first-century Disability Studies is only just engaging with.
I hope that my research will bring these neglected works out of obscurity and encourage readers to think again about literary representations of blindness.