Ryan Sweet
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Prostheses for women in nineteenth-century literature and commerce
in Rethinking modern prostheses in Anglo-American commodity cultures, 1820–1939
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In 1822, George Webb Derenzy, a former captain in the British army, published a volume titled Enchiridion: Or, A Hand for the One-Handed. The text highlighted what Derenzy called his ‘One-Handed Apparatus,’ a collection of twenty instruments that he had made after losing his arm in the Napoleonic Wars. Designed to ease his daily routines of washing, eating, writing, and socializing, Derenzy’s inventions included, among other items, an egg cup that tilted in any direction and a card-holder that fanned out and folded up for easy transportation. This chapter examines Derenzy’s motivations for publishing the Enchiridion; the responses he received from readers around the globe; and the presuppositions about gender and class that ultimately constrained his consumer appeal and profit. Derenzy chose to publish, not patent, his contraptions due to his charitable desires to share them with others with lost limbs. His focus on using his prostheses to reclaim aspects of his social respectability and manly independence that his impairments seemed to threaten, however, ended up alienating poor, middling, and female patrons and limiting his success as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Perhaps due to these marketing missteps, Derenzy experienced the plight of many physically-impaired people during the period; unable to profitably labour, he sustained a steady descent into poverty.

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