Laurel Daen
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‘A hand for the one-handed’
Prosthesis user-inventors and the market for assistive technologies in early nineteenth-century Britain
in Rethinking modern prostheses in Anglo-American commodity cultures, 1820–1939
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This chapter adds to historical studies of artificial body parts by exploring the reciprocal relationship between fictional texts and the prosthesis industry in nineteenth-century Britain and America. Focussing primarily on prostheses—including artificial legs, dentures, and glass eyes—in relation to female users, it demonstrates that fictional writing was a key component of nineteenth-century prosthesis discourse. The chapter argues that literary stories provided practical advice for readers on the kinds of prostheses that should be avoided for both social and functional purposes. Women in particular were targeted as consumers who should pay special attention when choosing prostheses. Popular literary sources, often packaged as marriage plots, provided kinds of advertisements not for but against certain prostheses. Meanwhile, both entire fictional works and particular representational strategies were used by contemporary prosthetists interchangeably as means through which to subtly disparage the devices of opposing makers, reinforce the proprietary ownership of particular designs, or promote the concealing abilities of particular devices to female users.

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