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"Her failing voice endeavoured, in vain, to articulate": Sense and Disability in the Novels of Elizabeth Inchbald.

Critical discussion of Elizabeth Inchbald's 1791 novel, A Simple Story, recently has been reawakened in the context of a discipline-wide reconsideration of the links among gender, affect, and the body. Readers have assessed the novel's constructions and subversions of identity in provocative ways, concentrating on the characters of Miss Milner and Matilda and their relationship to what Terry Castle calls "masculine prerogative," what Catherine Craft-Fairchild refers to as the interrogation of "patriarchal authority," what Eleanor Ty identifies as the "patriarchal and symbolic order" governed by "the Law of the Father," and what Nora Nachumi argues is "the logocentric language" predominant in a "patriarchal society." (1) Jo Alyson Parker accounts for the aesthetically infamous temporal gap between the novel's two halves--seventeen years--by arguing that "A Simple Story allows Inchbald to test out two versions of female power or influence--that which derives from an active resistance to authority and that which derives from a passive acquiescence to it." (2) Emily Hodgson Anderson claims that Inchbald offers her female characters a degree of freedom from conventionally sexist and restrictive expressions of desire by introducing complexity and ambivalence as a condition of emotional possibility. (3) Given Inchbald's often open defiance of her husband, independence of career, and fiscal prudence, literary scholars have found her representation of feminine subjectivity richly textured with strands of resistance, boldness, and libidinal thrills. What these readings collectively point towards is a narrative preoccupation with power and resistance, and I would like to add to this discussion the idea that vectors of power are refracted through the body of--and bodies of--the novel in ways that at times run counter to the idea that Dorriforth serves solely or primarily as the antagonistic context for the unfolding of a more essential feminine drama. This essay suggests the presence of representational strategies at work in the novel that have political implications as significant as those presented by critics interested in questions of gender and sexuality.

I would propose that those acts of domination frequently discussed in the current scholarship on Inchbald can also be read as continuous with the representation of bodily self-regulation, by which I mean character attributes, attitudes, and behaviors that are designed to prevent unwanted physiological irruptions and emotional effusions. Put simply, attempts to control or manipulate others' bodies can be read in the context of the characters' attempts to gain control over their own bodies. I argue that struggles with the body in Inchbald are informed by Inchbald's lifelong struggles with stuttering, and it is for this reason unsurprising to find bodily expression at moments of emotional stress in her fiction often represented as a form of disability. After providing a broad framework illustrating how recent theories of sensibility and disability might be brought into a dialogue with one another, I want to allow Inchbald's stutter to speak by briefly offering evidence showing that it serves as a viable biographical and cultural context for an interpretation of A Simple Story as well as her second and final novel, Nature and Art (1796). (4) 1 then offer readings of her two novels, and argue that the trope of disability present in the more recognizably sentimental Simple Story gained materiality in the politically charged narrative environment of Nature and Art.


A fiction replete with spectacles of the suffering body, valorizing both sympathy and community, and consisting of numerous decidedly sentimental situations and affective responses, A Simple Story unmistakably is indebted to the literature of sensibility. (5) However, Inchbald's speech impediment provided her with additional inspiration for the rendering of character. Lennard Davis has pointed out that that "the modern discourse of disability became consolidated" in the eighteenth century. (6) Even if Inchbald did not consider herself to be in the same category as individuals with other disabilities, her novels provide us with an extraordinary opportunity to consider the intersection of these two discursive categories and their joint role in the modern discourse of the body. Before asking how a disabled writer would relate to and revise the tradition of the sentimental novel, a genre that helped to forge the culture of sensibility and the physiology of the sensible body that anchored that culture, it is worth exploring further the sensibility/disability nexus. (7)

Generally speaking, sentimental novels show that sensibility, like disability, is not a characteristic of an individual but a relation between an individual body and external circumstance: an individual is deemed sensible when she displays certain signs in the face of another's suffering or elation, while an individual is deemed disabled when the environment in which she lives becomes oppressive and limiting. This relational theory of disability has given rise to a number of studies in both the social sciences and the humanities proceeding from the central claim that societies are constructed, and are therefore capable of being refashioned to give individuals with impairments greater access to the world. If, as disability rights advocates argue, disability is an effect of the environment in its relation to an individual, then it is possible to rebuild that reality in such a way as to minimize the impact of an impairment. Even stronger social constructionist views object to the rhetoric of impairment altogether, insisting that bodies are simply different, though Tobin Siebers has recently pointed out that many "impairments" entail very real pains that social changes cannot ameliorate. (8) One important consequence of the emphasis on the socially constructed nature of the disability experience has been a heightened interest in the histories of disability and the disabled, histories that reveal the origins of modern ideas about disability as well as unexplored historical contexts that might offer alternatives to our current limiting and inaccessible order of things.

What most historians and literary critics working from a disability studies perspective observe is that the eighteenth century bore witness to the emergence of the modern notion of disability and the simultaneous erosion of a system of beliefs concerning the supernatural, divine, prophetic, and symbolic meanings of disabilities. Reasons given for the unique impact of the eighteenth century on modern conceptions of disability include developments in the field of medicine, secularization and Enlightenment "science" broadly defined, the establishment of an institutional framework in which scientific developments could be tested, applied, and ideologically naturalized, and the acceptance of a utilitarian ethic suitable to an industrial workforce. Sensibility, that multiform and inchoate assortment of texts, writers, ideas, feelings, and agendas that differentially emphasized the human body's instinctive reactivity to external circumstances, is not generally regarded as having played a substantial role in the history of disability in the eighteenth century. And yet as even this highly reductive definition of sensibility shows, its cultural productions had a determinate influence on how bodies, both deviant and normal, were imagined.

A caveat is necessary here, for the stakes of the alignment I propose are considerable. I am not attempting to assimilate disability and sensibility, nor am I claiming that all sensible bodies should be read as disabled bodies, nor am I claiming that it is possible to imagine ourselves into a place where disability might become a form of sensibility or a sign of heightened sensibility. The differences between the two realms of experience are so vast as to explain the lack of attempts until now to bring them into dialogue with one another. Sensible bodies were largely free from stigmatization, disabled bodies were not; sensibility is a cultural discourse, disability is too, but disability also often involves real bodily pain; sensibility is an aspect or attribute of an individual or culture, and disability is an attribute as well, but one that proceeds from a specific form of social organization that transforms that attribute into a disability. That some disabilities proceed from an impaired sense complicates matters even further. No one can possibly dispute, in short, that sensibility differs from disability. However, because histories of disability have tended to reduce eighteenth century culture to the Enlightenment ideal of a disembodied rational intellect, and because histories of sensibility stand to gain from insights in the area of disability studies, I think it worth adding that for much of the century writers and readers took what today might be seen as disability--involuntary bodily expressivity in particular--as a sign of truth and morality. This essay tries to show the ways in which the discourses of sensibility and disability overlap, determine, and traffic with one another in suggestive and perhaps surprising ways.

I would like to present the views of two scholars on the challenge deviant bodies pose to behavioral codes--one working primarily in the field of disability studies, the other writing on sensibility and the cultural landscape of eighteenth-century England--to illustrate merely one point of theoretical intersection. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, whose Extraordinary Bodies presents a model analysis of disability in literature, offers the following:

Bodies that are disabled can ... seem dangerous because they are perceived as out of control. Not only do they violate physical norms, but by looking and acting unpredictable they threaten to disrupt the ritualized behavior upon which social relations turn. The uncontrolled body does not perform typically the quotidian functions required by the elaborately structured codes of acceptable behavior. Blindness, deafness, or stuttering, for instance, disturb the complex web of subtle exchanges upon which communication rituals depend. (9)

The challenge described by Garland-Thomson is provocatively similar to that articulated by John Brewer in Pleasures of the Imagination, in which sensibility is read as a critique of the culture of politeness, of the "elaborately structured codes of acceptable behavior" that disabled bodies also resist. Brewer argues that the culture of politeness mandated acts of social dissimulation, creating "a profound anxiety about ... identity." Sensibility, by contrast, "came naturally from within, unlike the artifice and show of polite society" and it "stressed the importance of bodily sensation" because the body was immune to selfish interests. (10) Replacing those well-defined codes of politeness with "Sweet Sensibility," whose "subtle essence still eludes the chains / Of definition," in the poet Hannah More's words, required acts of policing the line between sensibility and its excessive manifestations. This policing, Brewer suggests, involved pathologizing, with sentimental characters "physically feeble to the point of sickness, so sensitive as to have little or no control over their powerful bodily impulses" abounding in both the literature of sensibility and the literature critical of sensibility. (11) As the century wore on, Brewer illustrates, the attack on sensibility became more explicit, but it should be added that that attack was deeply grounded, as it had always been, in medical discourse. Sir Alexander Crichton's 1798 Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement included lengthy chapters on "The Imagination, and Its Diseases," "The Passions Considered As Causes of Mental Derangement," and "Volition, and Its Diseases." (12) Crichton, in his discussion of stuttering--which he takes to be a signal example of "diseases of volition"--goes so far as to claim that it results primarily in "young people, and most commonly in those who are endowed with what is figuratively called great sensibility of mind." Here Crichton does more than associate sensibility with disability. He consigns sensibility to the realm of the figurative, the rhetorical, the literary, over and against the presumably "real" categories of "mental derangement." (13) Where pundits of sensibility had taken the body's impulsive character as a way of signifying an authenticity beyond the codes of politeness, Crichton and others linked the non-volitional character of bodily expression with mental or physiological defects. (14) So those attributes that had originally challenged politeness as a means of organizing and ordering social interactions now were seen as forms of deviance, requiring institutional treatment. Seen in this light, the history of sensibility plays an important role in the later stages of Michel Foucault's Great Confinement, at least as it pertains to England.

Crichton was not alone in seeing stuttering as a form of disability, nor was he alone in linking it to sensibility. (15) William Nisbet's "Introduction to Nosology" classed "Impediment of Speech" with the following forms of what might be called expressive disabilities: Risus (laughter), Tremor ex ira (trembling from anger), Rubor ex ira (redness from anger), Rubor criminati (blushing from guilt), and Chorea Sancti Viti (St. Vitus' dance, a broad and obsolete diagnosis designating a variety of involuntary muscular movements). (16) In retrospect, it seems obvious that Nisbet's assimilation of such radically different physiological conditions as speech impediments, blushing, flushing, laughing, shaking, and trembling derives, at least in part, from the literature of sensibility, wherein all of these terms play a significant role in the semiotics of the body. It is important to remember, however, that Crichton and Nisbet's pathologization of the excessively expressive body came towards the end of an era in which those very excesses, those rejections of politeness, were themselves signs of authenticity. Disability studies stands to gain from considering this history of deviant bodies. (17)

That sensibility was intimately connected to pathology will come as no surprise to those familiar with the work of R. F. Brissenden, G. S. Rousseau, G.J. Barker-Benfield, and the many other scholars who have elaborated these and other such ties. (18) What remains unexplored, however, is why the myriad advances in the field of disability studies has not been brought to bear on this discussion. Why, for instance, are instances of fainting, fatigue, blushing, weeping, headache, etc. typically read as novelistic conventions rather than as impairments? The answer may lie in the consistency with which novelists deployed these signs of emotional turmoil, but such an answer does not take us very far. What if we were to take, as an example, Pamela's frequent palpitations of heart as a sincere representation of physiology rather than as a passing quasi-romantic, quasi-sentimental conceit communicating her growing love for Mr. B? Heart conditions frequently attend post-traumatic stress, and given the trauma that she has endured, is it possible that her love for Mr. B. is bound up with that trauma? Perhaps better would be to ask why questions such as these strike us as inappropriate, even absurd. What is it about these conventions that deprive physiology of its materiality, even as they appear to invoke that materiality? Are there moments where the body emerges from the symbolic morass of feelings and moral conditions and plainly declares its presence as a body? Juliet McMaster has rightly asked whether "reading the novel, in the eighteenth century, was about reading the body," while her answer to the question shows that it was and that it wasn't, the mind and body being inextricably woven together in eighteenth-century conceptions of selfhood. (19) Kevin Stagg, working from a disability studies perspective, asks similar questions of those working on the figure of the monster in literature, and it is one from which scholars of sensibility and the eighteenth-century novel stand to greatly benefit:

The personal, social and political implications of disability [in studies of monstrosity] are constantly elided whilst the physically different body is incessantly invoked. Thus, discourses of monstrosity invariably reflect on issues of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity but the disability or deformity that underpins the original category of monstrosity is overlooked. Where works exploring issues of gender, sexuality and race have highlighted the problem posed by invisibility, of being excluded from discourse, for disability the opposite is true. Disability is represented everywhere but its specific social significance is invisible. As [David] Mitchell argues, "the social navigation of stigma or the physical demands of a disability are slighted in favour of gesturing toward a symbolic register of commentary on the conditions of the universe." (20)

Stagg's insight applies equally well to the literature of sensibility, and his quotation from David Mitchell might just as easily be revised to say that disabled bodies are slighted in studies of sentimental literature in favor of the mental states those bodies communicate, as if the value--semiotic, cultural, scientific, and moral--of somatic experience consisted solely in its status as a mediating form. Everywhere we find characters in a state of acute physiological distress, and yet in labeling those states as conventional or as tropes, we find ourselves in a position strikingly similar to the naive posture of the ideal reader of the novel of sentiment: we read physiology as an unmediated thing, as an empty corridor at the end of which lies truth, morality, sadness, joy, or love. Stagg would have us pause and consider the body in its ineluctable materiality, to take the figure of the suffering, deformed, deviant, or impaired body as significant independent of its reference to a mental or moral state.

For reasons of space, I can only summarize what I see as four additional contexts for exploring the relation between sensibility and disability. (1) Relation to normalcy: both disability and sensibility entail bodies marked as different from what Garland-Thomson refers to as the normate, "the veiled subject position of cultural self, the figure outlined by the array of deviant others whose marked bodies shore up the normate's boundaries." (21) Provided above are examples of medical texts that point towards the pathological nature of certain forms of expression, while the novel of sentiment generally offers characters whose sensibility specifically marks them as different from others around them. (2) Social and physical environments antagonistic to sensible and disabled bodies: the normate enjoys a social and physical environment that coincides with its particular arrangement, while the non-normate suffers from the unwillingness of the social and physical environment to meet its needs. In eighteenth-century novels--such as Henry Mackenzie's Man of Feeling and Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield--characters defined by a sensible responsiveness to their environments suffer from their difference (Mackenzie's Harley in particular.) Sometimes this suffering is only temporary, a step on the path towards a final redemption or recuperation that corresponds to the moment of normalization or triumph in certain narratives of disabled persons. (3) Contingency of definition and enforcement: both sensibility and disability are contingent categories since the particular manifestations of both will vary depending upon a culture's definition of the normate. (4) Variable refraction of a mind/body problematic: in descriptions of sensible and disabled subjects, the body is figured as being in opposition to a will or logic that would not do what the body does, act as it acts, look as it looks. This is particularly evident in the case of expressive disabilities such as stuttering. In the case of sensibility, one cannot will a sensible response to a given circumstance since acts of will are anathema to the spontaneity that must attend sympathy in cases of truly sensible understanding. (22)

These sundry connections will be revisited in no particular order in the progress of this essay, and are designed to highlight some aspects of the disability/sensibility nexus, while the remainder of this essay seeks to forge more specific ties and to stress significant tensions between the two discourses in the novels of Elizabeth Inchbald.


In the words of her most recent biographer, Inchbald "had a serious handicap--she stuttered." (23) One of the earliest accounts of her life implies that the "considerable mortifications" she experienced as an actress proceeded from her "natural impediments," and mentions, in passing, that her stutter meant a life of retirement from public life. Another biographical note affirms that "the impediment in speech made it impossible for Mrs. Inchbald to succeed greatly as an actress." Even when on stage, "pantomime was her destiny wherever she went." (24) All of these remarks are no sooner noted than dismissed and one cannot help but feel on reading them that this detail engenders a combination of pity and admiration in her readers, with Inchbald's literary, theatrical, and social accomplishments serving as so many happy endings to the all-too-simple story of triumph in the face of adversity. (25) Some suggest that her stutter disappeared as she grew older: "afflicted with a stutter since her youth, Inchbald had gained control of her speech as she matured, yet the defect could often still be triggered by stress or extreme emotion." (26) With few exceptions, Inchbald scholars have treated her stutter as an episode in her life, from which she escaped relatively unharmed.

All we know for sure is that James Boaden, her first biographer, and upon whose account most contemporary biographies rest, does not write about the stutter as much when recounting her later life. That her stutter was a problem as late as her twenty-eighth year we know from a 1781 letter to theater manager Joseph Harris, with whom Inchbald maintained close relations in spite of his sometimes violent attempts upon her. She mentions that an anonymous friend of his "mimicks [her] stuttering" and ridicules her, saying that this act of ridicule compelled her to insult Harris himself, to shift the focus away from her hurt and embarrassed self. (27) Moreover, in 1784, when Inchbald was thirty-one, she famously stammered during the opening performance of her own play, The Mogul Tale. Standing in the wings, Inchbald awaited her cue:

The cue was, "Since we left Hyde Park Corner." She had merely to reiterate as an exclamation, "Hyde Park Corner!" but terror had robbed her entirely of utterance; she turned pale, and remained for a time in a suspension of mute amazement. At length, with that stammer which in private only attended her, she slowly, and in a sepulchral voice, ejaculated, "Hy-yde Pa-ark Co-orner!" to the great astonishment and derision of many. (Boaden, Memoirs 1:189)

The casual manner in which Boaden refers to "that stammer" suggests that it remained a feature of her private life at least--though by "in private" it is unclear whether Boaden means when speaking with intimates or when speaking to herself--but that it was worth mentioning in this instance because of its public manifestation. The remark also suggests the possibility that Boaden deliberately omitted references to "that stammer" when it occurred "in private." (28) In any case, if a casual member of Inchbald's circle was aware of her handicap, so much so that he felt it made cruel sense to openly mock her, and that Inchbald was publicly stuttering in her thirties very much to her own personal and professional disadvantage, then why do biographers assert--explicitly or implicitly--that it played no significant role in her life? (29) Inchbald saw fit to mention it in A Simple Story's preface, likely written in 1790 when she was thirty-seven, attesting to the fact that even after having written the novel, the "invincible impediment" remained at the forefront of her mind:

It has been the destiny of the writer of this story, to be occupied throughout her life, in what has the least suited either her inclination or capacity--with an invincible impediment in her speech, it was her lot for thirteen years to gain a subsistence by public speaking--and, with the utmost detestation to the fatigue of inventing, a constitution suffering under a sedentary life, and an education confined to the narrow boundaries prescribed by her sex, it has been her fate to devote a tedious seven years to the unremitting labour of literary productions. (30)

Since this preface, like others of its kind, is designed to apologize for a literary work, why does Inchbald reference vocal stuttering? Separated from the main sentence by dashes (two of twenty-one in this noticeably brief and choppy preface), the mention of her stutter is visually, logically, and biographically out of place. If, as Jane Spencer has suggested, the author in her emerged as a result of being unable to speak, then invoking the stutter precisely when she is supposed to be consoling, palliating, displacing, or otherwise trying to get over it would seem counterproductive. (31) If, instead of taking the preface to be a biographical declaration revelatory of Inchbald's reality, and we read the preface as being as much inside the text as the novel proper, then the figure of stuttering we encounter in the third sentence suddenly conditions the reader's experience of the ensuing story. More concrete evidence for the fact that Inchbald ascribed greater significance to the stutter than has been acknowledge lies in the fact that her unpublished memoirs were to contain a chapter on the "Impediment in my speech" and the "Bag with words" she used to treat it. What those chapters might have revealed will remain unknown, for Inchbald consigned them to the flames (Boaden, Memoirs 2:232). (32)


The biography of Inchbald has been one in which these selected anecdotes--the Harris incident, the Mogul Tale performance, Boaden's discussion of the stutter in only the most elliptical and vague terms, her own acknowledgement of it in the preface to A Simple Story, her unpublished autobiographical account of it--have played a conspicuously minor role. Yet they collectively offer a picture of Inchbald as someone uniquely alert to the tensions of the body. Independent of any conscious aim to reproduce the experience of stuttering, however, her novels bear the marks, if not the signs, of stuttering. (33) For while no characters specifically stutter, there are countless cases of what modern researchers dub "disfluency," a term encompassing a wide range of vocal difficulties due to the diffuse and uncertain nature of speech impediments. And while such vocal difficulties connect her novel to the typical literature of sentiment--in which the excitable nervous frame communicates sensibility of character by being often incapable of communicating through speech--they also channel the nascent discourse of speech pathology. The following story appeared in 1776 in an omnibus medical work by Gerard van Swieten:

A boy of four years old who could talk freely, fell down upon his head from a pair of stairs: at that time no damage appeared; but when he arose out of bed the third day after, he began to stutter, and the disorder of his speech increased on the following days without any other injury; but by applying cephalic fomentations to the head, and exhibiting proper medicines internally, he recovered his speech entirely. But in another person who had suffered a violent concussion of the head there remained an extreme difficulty of speech for several years afterwards, particularly when he laid down. (34)

Whether Inchbald read van Swieten's commentaries is unknown, though the notion of a serious fall or similar accident producing a stutter or stammer was clearly available to her. (35) Given the notorious details of her poor health throughout her life and the frequent interactions with doctors that her condition required, it is entirely possible that such a cause was suggested to her at one point or another. In any event, van Swieten's stuttering boys encourage us to rethink the famous passage from A Simple Story, in which Matilda--the daughter of Dorriforth (now Lord Elmwood), who has been allowed to live in his manor provided she never come into contact with him--finally, and accidentally, encounters him:

She had felt something like affright before she saw him--but her reason told her she had nothing to fear, as he was far away.--But now the appearance of a stranger whom she had never before seen; an air of authority in his looks as well as in the sound of his steps; a resemblance to the portrait she had seen of him; a start of astonishment which he gave on beholding her; but above all--her fears confirmed her it was him.--She gave a scream of terror--put out her trembling hands to catch the balustrades on the stairs for support--missed them--and fell motionless into her father's arms.

He caught her, as by that impulse he would have caught any other person falling for want of aid.--Yet when he found her in his arms, he still held her there--gazed on her attentively--and once pressed her to his bosom.

At length, trying to escape the snare into which he had been led, he was going to leave her on the spot where she fell, when her eyes opened and she uttered, "Save me."--Her voice unmanned him.--His long-restrained tears now burst forth--and seeing her relapse into the swoon again, he cried out eagerly to recall her.--Her name did not however come to his recollection--nor any name but this--"Miss Milner--Dear Miss Milner." (SS, 288-89)

Both Inchbald's scene and van Swieten's episode from his commentaries involve a young person falling down stairs and a subsequent "defect of speech." Van Swieten's boy has no protector to save him, but he does eventually receive "cephalic fomentations," which is, in a way, what the clasped body of Matilda receives in the form of her father's tears as he holds her in his arms. Before such curative efforts, however, the two passages represent the psychic disruption that engenders "defective" or peculiar speech. By "save me" does Matilda mean salvation? Does she mean rescue her from her fall, which has already been accomplished? Does she mean "keep me" (i.e., "do not banish me"), since that is what she must now expect? Whatever our answer, what is important is that Inchbald situates a proliferating vocal ambiguity alongside a "scream of terror" and "trembling hands." Equally important is the fact that Inchbald and van Swieten consider the body's location in space as well as the spaces of the body as critical details in the representation of human speech, stuttered or not. In one text we have the boy's "stairs" and his later arising from bed, the pleonastic insistence on the space of the body ("cephalic fomentations to the head"), as well as the second boy who stutters most when lying down. In the novel, we have Matilda's stairs, the balustrades, her collapse into his arms, his embrace of her lifeless body, his attendant desire to leave her "on the spot," all acting within a narrative economy where emotional experience is revealed in physical and physiological terms. Again, there is no reason to assume that Inchbald's scene derives from van Swieten's commentary, but both spring from and contribute to an understanding of speech as a corporeal event, a bodily act, rather than disembodied logos. Their respective aims are different, and this accounts for the fact that van Swieten's boy stutters, while Matilda by contrast issues a recognizable if merely ambiguous utterance. Van Swieten tries to illustrate the genesis of stuttering. For Inchbald, the falling body generates the literary conditions for speech to be at once strictly localized ("Don't let me fall!") and profoundly existential ("Bring me salvation!"). The associations between van Swieten's and Inchbald's traumatic falls and their impact on speech gesture towards deeper and more systematic connections between speech and sensibility in Inchbald's novel.

Her contemporary Maria Edgeworth found this particular passage from the novel uniquely poignant, writing that "nothing can be finer than the scene upon the stairs, where Dorriforth meets his daughter, and cannot unclasp her hand, and when he cannot call her by any name but Miss Milner--dear Miss Milner." (36) At this moment, Dorriforth loses all command over his body: instinctively starting in astonishment, catching his daughter as she falls, absentmindedly holding her to his bosom, compulsively weeping. But it is Dorriforth's failure to conjure words to match his feeling, to mistake his daughter's name for that of his deceased wife that affectively strikes the reader as a true departure from the impregnable psyche he has struggled to create for himself. This mistake sharply contrasts with an earlier description of Dorriforth emphasizing his elocution: "in his looks you beheld his thoughts moving with his lips, and ever coinciding with what he said" (SS, 10). In many ways, this seems like a fantasy, a powerful one for a young woman who painstakingly labored to get her own lips to coincide with her thoughts by using her "Bag with words." The labor of vocal normalization structurally mirrors Dorriforth's self-imposed emotional benumbing, since the efforts of the stuttering actress and fictional father fail in moments of acute stress. The meticulous regulation of the name and body of Dorriforth's child is revealed to be an artificial emotional containment strategy as retrospectively pointless as his effort to match his lips to his thoughts.

Dorriforth's loss of bodily control--the bursting of the "door in the fort"--is mirrored in Matilda's involuntary act of fainting, suggesting that who stammers here is less important than the atmosphere of stammering created by the whole episode, where stammering is less an effect of falling--as in van Swieten's text--than a tonal property of the scene in its entirety. Inchbald brilliantly captures the terrifying moment of encounter, the instant when eyes lock, when something might be said ... but all that comes out is a scream and a fall. Both Matilda and Dorriforth's bodies here are out of control, and while it is the latter who truly stammers (being at a loss for words, he speaks the maiden name of Matilda's mother, Miss Milner), his physical embrace of her fallen body and subsequent assumption of what should be her vocal failure allegorizes his broader subsequent assumption of Matilda's pain and suffering. One might say of such a situation that "words fail" to describe it, but Inchbald makes that platitude the very material of their encounter. It is not that Inchbald's characters stutter as van Swieten's boys do, but rather that struggles with language--with generating and understanding meaning--produce the emotional pitch identified by Edgeworth.

In addition to charting the myriad ways that vocal and pedal stumbling are linked (historically, culturally, etymologically), Marc Shell's recent book Stutter--part memoir, part cultural history, and part literary theory and criticism--offers a uniquely valuable perspective on the relationship between what we recognize as stuttering and the many ways that people with stutters conceal those stutters through acts of substitution, "word switching," and "sound-based avoidance." Shell refers to such efforts as acts of "self-correction," and provides examples of stutterers, including himself, who, when they "feel a stutter coming on" for one word, insert a different though roughly synonymous word instead. Shell lists translational, intralinguistic, and personal substitutions as primary techniques, all of which "merge with one another and often effect changes in meaning" since pure synonymy is impossible, and these substitutions often introduce ambiguities that complicate the verbal and rhetorical situation. (37) If we allow for Inchbald's stutter, Dorriforth's substitution at this moment of heightened emotional intensity--exchanging "Matilda" for "Miss Milner"--suggests the kind of technique that Shell outlines in his book. This word-switch allows Dorriforth to come to terms with the immediate emotional and vocal milieu, but since the two terms are not synonyms, the substitution conceals Dorriforth's state of mind as much as it reveals it, and points to deeper layers of psychic strata.

I will return to Dorriforth's sound-avoidance in a moment, for it ramifies more extensively on the narrative than this isolated instance of word-switching, but it is essential to note first that problems with voicing apply to other characters and situations as well. In a scene previous to the one just discussed, that in which Matilda's mother, the real Miss Milner, dies on her bed, Inchbald quite dramatically prevents a character from speaking while insisting on the directionality of gaze and the prone body:

As he [Sandford] spoke these words of consolation, her trembling hand clasped his--her dying eyes darted a ray of brightness--but her failing voice endeavoured, in vain, to articulate.--At length, her eyes fixing upon her daughter as their last dear object, she was just understood to utter the word "Father."

"I understand you," replied Sandford, "and by all that influence I ever had over him, by my prayers, my tears," (and they flowed at the word) "I will implore him to own his child."

She could now only smile, in thanks.

"And if I should fail," continued he, "yet while I live, she shall not want a friend or protector--all an old man like me can answer for"--here his tears interrupted him. (SS, 227)

Again, although a common topos for the sentimental writer, the notion of inexpressible emotional pain or pleasure is given acute meaning by a writer intimately familiar with a "failing voice endeavour[ing], in vain, to articulate." (38) On her deathbed, finding it impossible to "articulate" her thoughts with her "failing voice," Miss Milner does not "announce," "pronounce," or even "say" anything. She "utters" the word "Father." According to the OED, "stutter" and "utter" are not etymologically connected, though her use of "utter" here seems to carry the semantic force of "stutter." Hesitancy, reluctance, partialness of expression, "barely-ness," or reservation of speech is a frequent nuance in Inchbald's use of "utter," and notably this inflection is a feature of many OED attestations subsequent to the mid-eighteenth century. Earlier, "utter" meant something closer to "ejaculation" or "declamation," while here and elsewhere it suggests a certain tension between what is intended and what is ultimately expressed. (39) Moreover, an utterance is not directed to anyone, as in intentionally communicative speech, but rather emerges from a mysterious place without a determinate addressee. For Inchbald, uttering is really a kind of stuttered utterance. It is language that can only be "just understood"--through a look, a quiet word, a dying breath, a choked or "sepulchral" articulation--and it is language that comes without syntax, without determinate meaning, and without addressee. Just as Inchbald's intimates were the only ones who could understand her as a child, so Sandford's ability to "understand" her here shows how intimate the two characters have become.

Uttering is not the only somatic event employed by Inchbald to render the suffering body, but it does provide a paradigm for understanding other forms of emotional expression. The challenge speech poses to characters in moments of emotional distress also characterize Sandford's ensuing tears. In the same way that Dorriforth's elementary homophonic "steps" suggest "authority" to Matilda in the passage above, so do Sandford's simple repetitive tears function like isolated phonemes suggesting sadness without announcing it as such, for indeed, "here his tears interrupted him." Tears, steps, and phonemes occupy similar semiotic space in that they work primarily as collectives, and often standing in place of one another in the dramatic action. Each of the examples listed here--walking, weeping, and speaking--is presented by Inchbald as the labored concretion of serialized parts whose meaning lies precisely in not having meaning in the same way that words do in "ordinary language." Both the phoneme (the isolated, non-syntax-bound sound) and the tear argue that for Inchbald communication is frequently interrupted by the very elements that compose it. Underscoring the interchangeability of such signs, Sandford's interruptive tears flow precisely as he speaks the word "tears," while, at other times in the novel, characters walk to avoid weeping.

Stuttering entails a disconnect between what is thought and said, between what one wants to say and what the mouth is capable of saying. In the analogy between the stuttered phoneme and steps, steps act as the partial and independently meaningless designation of the space between where one is and where one wants to be just as the partial articulations of the stutterer (the "Hy" of "Hyde," "Pa" of "Park," or "Co" of "Corner") exist as partial and independently meaningless "steps" between the imagined word and the word manifest. Similarly, tears function like phonemes in being the product of a fully realized sensation of sadness but they do not articulate that sadness outright. Indeed, in A Simple Story tears function as ersatz words, such as when Matilda, "unable to speak" after being saved by Dorriforth, instead falls to his knees in tears. Or, shortly after this--still afraid of confronting him the morning after her deliverance--"a tremor seize [d] her," and finding herself not knowing "how to dare to speak," her "tears wholly overcame her" (SS, 334, 336). Moreover, nearly every time that Inchbald presents to the reader an image of a weeping character, she places the tear in the position of the syntactic subject, making her characters passive with respect to unruly bodily expression: "the tears began to trickle down his cheeks," "the tears now gushed in torrents," he felt the tear "steal to his eye and even fall down his cheek," "the tears flowed fast down his face" (SS, 232, 319, 303, 237). (40)

It is possible to read the emplacement of the weeping eye at moments of vocal uncertainty or confusion as Inchbald's way of offering the mark of stuttering. Stuttering involves involuntary non-referential sounds that are nevertheless essential to meaning, but stuttering reveals the space between thought and word, and in so doing accesses the infinitely disappearing point between the two. So rather than approaching stuttering as thought on display or language in a state of becoming (as defective or half-language), we can think of stuttering as a moment unto itself that serves as a possible analogy for the processual nature of all human expressivity. A drama of semantic transubstantiation is manifested in every vocal performance--in the preliminary inhalation, clearing of the throat, positioning of the eyes, mouth, palate, and tongue--and the stuttering voice makes audible the process that we all inevitably undergo but struggle to repress for the comfortable fiction of a mouth that serves the mind and a word that serves thought. As with other forms of disability, stuttering unveils the contingency of the body itself, which "produces features of a primal scene of extreme anxiety whose roots lie in barely acknowledged vertiginous fears of loss of control over the body itself." (41) A struggle for maintenance and management of the border between self and world inevitably results from this anxiety, and effective management of the liminal bodily space of the mouth becomes key to producing a harmony of mind and body, and by extension, self and world, where "you beheld his thoughts moving with his lips, and ever coinciding with what he said." From a sociocultural perspective, this management takes the form of pathology, wherein individuals marked as disabled are subjected to (and subject themselves to) various forms of treatment that frequently aim to produce a voice approximating the normate.

In the case of Dorriforth's "Miss Milner--Dear Miss Milner," in which the fact of Matilda's body in his arms suddenly shows that harmony to be the product of accident (and it is just that in the narrative, an accidental meeting), we witness a deconstruction of the opposition between thought and word, parent (Miss Milner) and child (Matilda), inside (the desire to speak) and outside (the referential locution). The depths of emotional life in A Simple Story turn out to be revealed not in language, but in the very failure of language to match the thoughts of the feeling subject. The outward pressure of this explosive unveiling helps to account for the excess of dashes peppering the entire text, which forces the reader to experience the narrative as fragmentary and particulate rather than as a gradual progression of plot, fluid articulation of sensation, and steady development of character. This narrative fragmentation is also associated with the revelation of deeper truths that managed language cannot articulate. During a bout of fever, we learn that Miss Milner, when "she became perfectly recollected, her first care was, knowing the frailty of her heart, to enquire what she had uttered while delirious" (SS, 137). Miss Milner fears that her body has "uttered" the truth of her desire (for her guardian, Dorriforth) even as her will wishes it to remain secret. Inchbald here offers stuttering's obverse side: the body that speaks clear truth without the will's direction.

Similarly, as Dorriforth struggles to articulate his arguably incestuous desire for his ward to an auditor (Miss Woodley), he employs certain stock sentimental topics and patterns, but Inchbald subverts those conventions by refraining from reproducing them in the untroubled way that an actor would reproduce a script. In response to Miss Woodley, he manages the following: "'But that is the way--the person who is our friend we misdoubt--where a common interest is concerned, we are ashamed of drawing on a common danger--Afraid of advice, though that advice is to save us.--'Miss Woodley,' said he (changing his voice with an excess of earnestness) 'do you believe that I would do any thing to make Miss Milner happy?'" (SS, 164). An admixture of sentence fragments, partially articulated proverbial chestnuts, generalizations about what "we" should do, and a decidedly more serial than logical progression of thought, Dorriforth's verbal fracturing performs the emotional depth that eloquent testimonials had been charged with establishing in earlier sentimental novels. Just as "an individual who stutters might turn a lack of grammatical sequence (typical among stammerers) into [the rhetorically effective device of] anacoluthon," so does Dorriforth's emotional pain seem somehow more palpable in virtue of its damaging effects on grammar. (42) Simply put, language born of desire, like tears born of pain, is an active force, and the speaker's body passive with respect to it. Unable or unwilling to narrativize the process of moving from inarticulacy to articulacy, or from passivity to mastery, Inchbald places that act of management into a still more interruptive parenthesis. The vocal composure he eventually secures is figured as a conscious, deliberate, even laborious undertaking that takes place in the midst of speaking, requiring him to "chang[e] his voice with an excess of earnestness."

The conflict described above extends into the related process of reading as well. As Miss Milner reads a letter sent to her at Milner Lodge, Bath, from Miss Woodley, she anticipates news of her passion, news, that is, of Dorriforth: "she read slowly every line it contained to procrastinate the pleasing expectation she enjoyed, till she should arrive at the name of Dorriforth. At last her impatient eye, caught the word three lines beyond the place she was reading--irresistibly, she skipped over those lines, and fixed on the point to which she was attracted" (SS, 135-36). Miss Milner's affection for Dorriforth is registered for the reader by her "skipping" towards it as she reads. I intimated earlier that the pathologizing of stuttering results in part from the fact that the stuttering subject demystifies the fiction of an uninterrupted circuit of meaning between mouth and mind, making explicit the deferrals, anticipations, and hesitations to which all speech acts are subject, all utterances being "stutterances," but some more recognizably so than others. By the same token, "skipping" makes explicit the mechanical and decidedly bodily nature of reading. Whereas in "normal reading" the eye is ideally more or less disembodied and abstracted from the process of meaning acquisition, in this scene, Inchbald activates the eye and foregrounds its movement: "at last her impatient eye, caught the word three lines beyond the place she was reading."

If stuttering reveals or demystifies the flow of speech by foregrounding the body, skipping suggests a peculiar notion of the feeling subject in Inchbald. Specifically, the subject of intense emotional experience concentrates not on the normal flow of life, a flow for which the grammatical sentence and the un-stuttered word serve as textual and phonic analogies, but on the name of the object of that experience. In Inchbald, one cannot be smoothly reasoned out of a particular disposition of the passions because affective connectivity between characters is not represented as a seamless narrative that can be gradually undone or reconfigured. Affection is a non-discursive mystery that materializes as a series of only tentatively connected parts, elements, events, or bits. In the case of Miss Milner's reading of the letter, it does not matter what Dorriforth is doing, feeling, or experiencing, but simply that his name exists in the letter.

The desire to see the name, which in Miss Milner's experience serves as a figure for the illogic of desire itself (desire cannot be contextualized or explained in a meaningful way), helps to account for the elision of much rising action in the novels' courtships. The characters understand one another's feelings and then quite suddenly are getting married. Sandford's peremptory joining of Miss Milner and Dorriforth's hands at the end of the novel's first half may strike the reader as a rather forced fusion, but the marriage is no less convincing for its hasty administration. On the contrary, the way in which two names, Miss Milner and Dorriforth, become one through marriage is itself revealed to be precisely that, a forcing together, when in the second half of the novel we see how quickly such tenuous linkages can be broken. Understanding affective affinity in A Simple Story as a fixation on the decontextualized name rather than as the gradual development of a narratable affection helps to account for Dorriforth's injunctions regarding the names of Matilda and Miss Milner. His unwillingness, and Inchbald's emphasis on this unwillingness, to hear the name of either constitutes an implicit recognition of the power of the name itself to command the attention of the feeling subject and to replace the contented flow of everyday life with a singular and irreducible affective obsession.

Reading the novel as an installment in the culture of sensibility undoubtedly helps us to grasp the kind of emotional reforms through which characters like Miss Milner and Dorriforth must go. But reading it through the lens of disability studies, and theories of stuttering in particular, allows us to recognize the very simple fact that names are, first and foremost, words, and that in A Simple Story, names are the hardest words to pronounce. They are what some stutterers call "trouble words," or words over which one anticipates stumbling, words that must be exchanged for others. A considerable portion of Inchbald's novel deals precisely with trouble words, and even though we might wish to naturalize the difficulty with these names by ascribing to them deeper ontological significance than other words, what could be more "unnatural" than the elaborate circumlocutions we find in Dorriforth's conversations with his friend Sandford and his nephew Rushbrook regarding "the person whom he forbade them from ever naming?" These circumlocutions, ultimately, would be just as, if not more, emotionally damaging than naming Matilda or Miss Milner. His periphrasis not only points us, however indirectly, to that same conjured image, but also underscores the traumatic experience that has given rise to the need for the circumlocution in the first place. For someone like Inchbald, who conceived of her relation to names as words needing pronunciation--it was the name of a park that mortified her on stage--periphrasis makes a great deal of sense since the point is simply to avoid the trouble word.

Within the novel's psychic economy, however, name-avoidance is arguably the worst way to deal with emotional pain, having more the character of a man walking to take his mind off of his sore feet: not only does it fail to distract the sufferer from the pain, it makes the pain worse. There is, therefore, a rupture in the text produced by the competing demands of the narrative economy of disability and the narrative economy of sensibility. In the latter, tears, blushes, failing voices, and palpitations of the heart stem from the individual's responsiveness to the presence of another. By contrast, in a narrative economy structured around the idea of avoidance, we find precisely that, avoidance, silence, substitution, anacoluthon. Far from appearing to the reader as an implausible fissure within the narrative, Dorriforth's avoidance of the name itself gives a psychic complexity, even strangeness, to his character. His tyrannical management of language strikes the reader as the arbitrary but deadly serious behavior of a man who himself is deeply conflicted. But this all merely turns his avoidance strategies to account by sounding his emotional depths. The text in this way returns us to the comfortably familiar figure of a man beside himself with grief and confusion. Tropic absorption, or the process whereby the details of a certain form of experience are deprived of their particularity by an abstracting dominant discourse, thus comes to define most readers' experience of the novel. In A Simple Story the inability to speak, the irruptive power of tears, and the uncontrollable and often painful resistance of the body to the will are all collectively absorbed by the tractable and multiform discourse of sensibility that makes disability all but invisible.


Nature and Art tells the story of two young men, the ambitious and resentful William and the kindhearted and generous Henry, who set off to London to earn a living after the death of their father. (43) Henry soon manages to secure employment thanks to his skill at playing the fiddle, and because of the intimacy with wealthy powerbrokers that his playing makes possible, he secures an ecclesiastical position for his brother William. Eventually, William overtakes his brother in riches and prestige, the two have a falling out regarding Henry's virtuous but impolitic marriage to a singer, and William marries the vain Lady Clementina. Both couples have a son, bearing the names of their fathers. Widowed, destitute, and on the brink of death in an African colony to which he has traveled seeking a living, the elder Henry eventually sends his son to the rising cleric William for care. The now wealthy family agrees to take him in, but dislikes him for his ignorance of the polite world--the dopey upper class being unable to comprehend Henry's common-sense reactions to silliness and cruelty. The younger William, by contrast, is the child of art, and, as such, is full of the same vice and ignorance that characterize his mother and father, which culminates in the seduction, pregnancy, poverty, and execution of village beauty Hannah Primrose. Henry the younger, meanwhile, travels to Africa, reunites with his father, eventually marries Rebecca Rymer, and the three--both Henrys and Rebecca--live poorly but happily in a seaside cottage. Neither William receives a come-uppance, save that the elder's death goes unmourned by the local peasants who despised him in life and now mock him in death.

In offering a nascent English peasant consciousness, Nature and Art typically is read as Inchbald's response to the French Revolution, but it does not break entirely with the conventions of her earlier sentimental novel. (44) Like A Simple Story, Nature and Art offers moments of emotional distress and the disfluency that attends such moments, such as that in which William condescendingly upbraids Henry for his marriage to the lowly singer:

[Henry] began to raise his voice, and even (in the coarse expression of clownish anger) to lift his hand---but the sudden and affecting recollection of what he had done for [William]--of the pains, the toils, the hopes, and the fears he had experienced when soliciting his preferment--this recollection overpowered his speech--weakened his arm--and deprived him of every active force, but that of flying out of his brother's house... (NA, 48)

Henry's "overpowered speech" serves to differentiate him from his brother William, a silver-tongued sermonizer who is at one point caught perusing the "orations of Cicero" and whose son, the younger William, "could talk on history, on politics, and on religion; surprisingly [well] to all who never listened to a parrot or a magpie--for he merely repeated what had been told him," and therefore becomes the judge with "that well known tongue" (NA, 43, 53, 137). The younger Henry, by contrast, is like his father, marked as virtuous because of what he cannot say:

In addition to his ignorant conversation upon many topics, young Henry had an incorrigible misconception and misapplication of many words... He would call compliments, lies--Reserve, he would call pride--stateliness, affectation--and for the words war and battle, he constantly substituted the word massacre. (NA, 63)

Inchbald's lightly satiric characterization does not take away from the fact that Henry's substitution is what aligns him with the force of radical change and rejection of the polite world's mystifying self-congratulation and apologies, especially since the ensuing conversation takes a notably severe turn: overhearing the sounds of gunfire in the distance, Henry proclaims that a "massacre" is under way. Both Williams and a visiting bishop insist that it is not a massacre, but a battle; Henry remains unconvinced since if, as young William claims, "a massacre ... is when human beings are slain, who have it not in their power to defend themselves," then anyone who is killed against their will is massacred. This suggests to the novel's reader that the disenfranchised Hannah Primrose--whose life is ultimately taken from her by the state using William as its proxy--is effectively massacred by a system of unjust laws and corrupt officials. There are certainly more explicit professions of a revolutionary agenda in Nature and Art, but even Henry's vocal imperfections portend the coming revolution that will dethrone Art, and with it, the treacherous eloquence of the polite world.

Just as sentimentalism mediates disfluency in A Simple Story, offering the mark but not the sign of stuttering, so does Henry's satirical disfluency here trope the stutter into a figure for natural truth and uncontaminated learning, leaving the reader still more or less insulated from the realities of disability. But whereas in the earlier novel Inchbald had rested content with such rhetorical mediations, the actual disablings of erstwhile normate bodies catalyze real revolutions in the characters' lives in Nature and Art. Hannah Primrose, for instance, is driven to abject poverty because of pregnancy, perhaps the most significant form of female disability in eighteenth century novels. (45) Unable to save her name, she nearly forfeits her life by committing suicide after having tried to commit infanticide. While out walking, young Henry had in fact discovered the dying infant. He eventually restores the child to Hannah, who will now bear this burden as she travels to London in search of work. Her gratitude towards Henry's actions is expressed in "powerful, yet broken accents," and her "convulsive starts, even more than her declaration, convinced him" of the depth that gratitude (NA, 113). During these travels she cannot secure legitimate employment for any length of time due to the physical and psychological trials young William's seduction initially set in motion: "In vain she offered herself to the strangers of the village in which she was accidentally cast, as a servant--her child, her dejected looks, her broken sentences, a wildness in her eye, a kind of bold despair which at times overspread her features, her imperfect story, who and what she was, prejudiced all those to whom she applied" (NA, 123). When she finally turns to a life of crime, is apprehended, and subsequently convicted, the reader of many such tales of errant women is unsurprised. Readers may find it implausible that the judge--her seducer, William--does not recognize Hannah in the courtroom when he sentences her to death, but Inchbald has prepared us for just such a moment by emphasizing the toll that her labors have taken on her body. Earlier, we learn that her labors chafed her hands, burned her skin, and made it so that she herself "looked in the glass," and saw "some other face ... instead of her own" (NA, 123). It is certainly possible to read this moment of self-alienation as the dawn of a certain consciousness, or as an allegory of the organic community coming to an end, but it is also very much about a body that has been literally scarred, stressed, burnt, and broken by a series of transactions: her face is not the face she remembers.

Similarly, Henry tells us that the reason he originally went to Africa was because of "the misfortune of losing the use of my right hand by a fall from my horse, which accident robbed me of most of my friends, for I could no longer entertain them with my performance as I used to do" (NA, 55). Another fall, another disabled body. Would Inchbald have likened a fiddler with a broken arm to an actress with a broken voice, both unable to entertain others? Recall that when the elder Henry lost the power of speech in his stressed confrontation with the elder William, the experience also "weakened his arm." Should a scarred woman speaking in broken sentences fruitlessly seeking work in London be likened to Inchbald's own journey from Suffolk to the metropolis to do the same? Whatever our answer to these questions may be, it is clear that disability in the later novel has far more dire political and socioeconomic consequences than the failing voices of A Simple Story. Inchbald used techniques of characterization that she had developed in the novel of sensibility, but where A Simple Story had used the figure of disability to deepen and complicate sentimental transactions, actual cases of disability, such as those found in Nature and Art, demanded an explicitly political context. While the novel of sentiment allowed Inchbald a way of discussing disability and its manifestations--its silences, its vain articulations, its falling bodies--it was still a coded, parabolic, and tropic discussion, which thereby neutralized any potential call for serious reform or even reconsideration about the body and its relation to society; Nature and Art unhinges disability from sensibility, insists that paralyzed arms and broken sentences are matters of tremendous import and need not simply be modulations of a higher order of signification, allegories of struggle, or glyphs in the interminable story of virtue. A Simple Story insists that we talk about disability along with sensibility; Nature and Art demands that we listen.

Tulane University


(1) Terry Castle, Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (Stanford U. Press, 1986), 292. Catherine Craft-Fairchild, Masquerade and Gender: Disguise and Female Identity in Eighteenth-Century Fictions by Women (Penn State U. Press, 1993), 77. Eleanor Ty, Unsexed Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790s (U. of Toronto Press, 1993), 100. These texts were brought to my attention by Nora Nachumi, "'Those Simple Signs': The Performance of Emotion in Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 11 (1999): 317-38. Shawn Lisa Maurer's introduction to Nature and Art (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005) similarly recognizes the persistent and potentially limiting assimilation of Inchbald with her heroine in readings of A Simple Story, but still asserts that the ideological importance of her second novel consists in its construction of gender identity (12).

(2) Jo Alyson Parker, "Complicating A Simple Story: Inchbald's Two Versions of Female Power," Eighteenth-Century Studies 30 (1997): 257.

(3) Emily Hodgson Anderson, "Revising Theatrical Conventions in A Simple Story: Elizabeth Inchbald's Ambiguous Performance," The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 6 (2006): 5-30.

(4) A note on "Elizabeth Inchbald" in Public Characters of 1799-1800 (London, 1799), 336, observes that because of the "natural impediment in her speech, she contracted very early in life an attachment to retirement, and a great fondness for reading."

(5) According to Candace Ward, "Inordinate Desire: Schooling the Senses in Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story," Studies in the Novel 31 (1999): 1, while A Simple Story is "not usually read as a novel of sensibility, [it] nevertheless reflects the promising possibilities sensibility offered late-century writers." G.J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (U. of Chicago Press, 1992): 255-57, considers Dorriforth's conversion as consistent with the literature of sensibility as well.

(6) Lennard Davis, "Dr. Johnson, Amelia, and the Discourse of Disability," Defects: Engendering the Modern Body, ed. Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2000), 56.

(7) The relation of sentimental fiction to sensibility is complex. For a recent account, see Stephen Ahern, Affected Sensibilities: Romantic Excess and the Genealogy of the Novel, 1680-1810 (New York: AMS Press, 2007), 15-16, 24-25.

(8) Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2008), 60-64.

(9) Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature (Columbia U. Press, 1997), 37.

(10) John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997), 112, 117.

(11) Hannah More, "Sensibility: A Poetical Epistle to the Hon. Mrs. Boscawen," lines 235-36; Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination, 121.

(12) SirAlexander Crichton, An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement (London, 1798).

(13) Crichton, Inquiry, 80. For Crichton, stuttering results from a moment of indecision in the mind of the speaker: "If a sudden thought makes a person who is in the middle of a speech imagine that there is a better expression for his thoughts than that which he is about to employ, the action is immediately interrupted, and he either stops, or stammers. When this complaint is slight, it is called hesitation, when great, stammering' (79).

(14) Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, vol. 1 (London, 1796), 225-26, presents stuttering as an instance of broken "catenations," trains of thought: "Thus in the common impediment of speech, when the association of the motions of the muscles of enunciation with the idea of the word to be spoken is disordered, the great voluntary efforts, which distort the countenance, prevent the rejoining of the broken associations."

(15) George Cheyne, The English Malady (London, 1734), 104-5, seen as a prominent founder of the nerve theory of sensibility, wrote that people who "Stutter, Stammer, have a great Difficulty of Utterance, [or] speak very Low... without an Accident or an acute Distemper; are quick, prompt, and passionate; are all of weak Nerves; have a great Degree of Sensibility; are quick Thinkers, feel Pleasure or Pain the most readily, and are of most lively Imagination."

(16) William Nisbet, The Clinical Guide; or, A Concise View of the Leading Facts on the History, Nature, and Treatment, of the State and Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (London, 1800), 336.

(17) One of the more persistent claims in disability studies is that, as Siebers succinctly puts it, a "rigid eighteenth century preoccupation with reason" inhibited "more flexible definitions of human beings," and that nothing more of note is or can be said of the eighteenth century and its bodies (Disability Theory, 89-90). Similarly, James c. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, eds., introduction to Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture (Cardondale: Southern Illinois U. Press, 2001), 6, draw attention to Aristotle's definition of disability, and go on to state that "for much of the intervening two thousand years, particularly since the Enlightenment, an 'embodied' position was excluded from serious consideration as 'truth' or, later, as 'scientific objectivity.'" Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson invoke Locke's critique of rhetoric as indicative of his problems with "embodied" truth production, but otherwise say nothing of the fact that Locke was a founding empiricist, a philosophy explicitly concerned with embodied truth. A more complex picture of the eighteenth century emerges in Mary Klages, Woeful Afflictions: Disability and Sentimentality in Victorian America (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). In a powerful retelling of the history of disability, Klages shows that eighteenth century moral philosophy provided the grounds for understanding the disabled as human. The cost of this equalizing humanization, however, was to sentimentalize the disabled, to make the disabled body "dependent, helpless, pitiable, and deserving of compassion" (3).

(18) R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to de Sade (New York: Harper and Row, 1974); G. S. Rousseau, "Nerves, Spirits, and Fibres: Towards Defining the Origins of Sensibility," Studies in the Eighteenth Century 3 (1976): 137-57.

(19) Juliet McMaster, Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 1. McMaster's work has been particularly helpful in expertly synthesizing theories of body and mind as presented by philosophers, actors, scientists, novelists, and others. She presents convincing evidence that the body was seen as gateway to the inner self, site of "visible manifestations of states of mind" (131), and that for many eighteenth-century writers, "the best body [was] the most legible body" (173). This essay does not ask how the body and its languages signified, but whether' and when it might cease to signify altogether.

(20) Kevin Stagg, "Representing Physical Difference: The Materiality of the Monstrous," Social Histories of Disability and Deformity, ed. David M. Turner and Kevin Stagg (London: Routledge, 2006), 20.

(21) Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies, 8.

(22) For a discussion of the mind/body problem in the literature of sensibility, see McMaster, Reading the Body 1-5, 22-24, 130-133; and, Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London, Methuen, 1986), 19-21, 30-31.

(23) Annibel Jenkins, I'll Tell You What: The Life of Elizabeth Inchbald (Lexington: U. Press of Kentucky, 2003), 2. Jenkins' definitive biography records several moments relevant to her stutter, and footnotes the fact that "Inchbald stuttered all her life" (523), but refrains from assigning implications to it or according it anything more than anecdotal status. Other remarks on Inchbald's life note the stutter only to move past it. The second sentence of Paula Backscheider's introduction to The Plays of Elizabeth Inchbald, vol. 1 (New York: Garland, 1980), ix, reads, "in spite of a severe speech defect, she worked her way" into the theater. Roger Manvell's biography offers the following: "Her ambition was to become an actress, but there was one impediment. She stammered": Elizabeth Inchbald: England's Principal Woman Dramatist and Independent Woman of Letters in 18th Century London (Lanham, MD: U. Press of America, 1988), 4. Both Manvell and Jane Spencer's treatment of the issue derives from Boaden's account. See Jane Spencer, "Inchbald, Elizabeth (1753-1821)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford U. Press, 2004). Anna Lott's introduction to A Simple Story. (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2007), 15, mentions the stutter m passing. Pamela Clemit's introduction to A Simple Story (London: Penguin Books, 1996), omits the detail entirely. It goes ,without saying that studies of Inchbald would be nowhere without these scholars attention to and development of Inchbald's biography and works.

(24) Public Characters of 1799-1800, 336-37. Henry Morley, introduction to Nature and Art (London, 1886), 6. James Boaden, Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald, 2 vols. (London, 1833), 1:163. Inchbald was also a successful and prolific playwright. Moments of stuttering, vocal trembling, speechlessness, malapropisms, and other types of speech disfluency are to be found in several of her works. Though I have chosen to focus on Inchbald's novels here, fascinating conclusions may be drawn concerning the relation between her disability and her dramatic works. For instance, in Such Things Are (1788) both Lady Tremor and Sir Luke are seen at points leaving the stage when being at a loss for words or stunned into silence. Off stage, the characters regain composure, and then return.

(25) For a take on this type of narrative in Macaulay's treatment of Samuel Johnson, see Davis, "Dr. Johnson," 63-65.

(26) Anderson, "Revising Theatrical Conventions," 3, is the only study of Inchbald to take the question of the stutter seriously, though her reading of Inchbald's strategic deployment of the stutter seems to suggest--though Anderson herself certainly would not--that the only good stutter is a fake one. It is my feeling that Anderson's reading of the anecdotal evidence concerning her stutter in fact undermines the far more convincing claims she makes about emotional life in the novel. In brief, to argue that the stutter may have been tactically deployed suggests a mastery over the signs of psychic and emotional life that her essay's thesis on the inevitable ambivalence of emotional expression explicitly resists.

(27) Boaden, Memoirs, 1:154; also see 1:11, where, because of her labors, Inchbald "subdued her impediment to render it tractable at least, if not removable," essentially conceding that Inchbald never fully overcame her stutter.

(28) Jenkins writes that "when she was with family or friends, she stuttered very little," but the comment from Boaden raises questions about this, since it is "in private," rather than in public, that one tends to be "with family or friends" (Life, 523).

(29) Regarding her 1782 performance in The East Indian, one viewer said that "he never heard sentences uttered more from the heart, than the tones of Mrs. Inchbald conveyed to his ear;--that no impediment at all was discernible through the whole night,--and that none such existed in the lady professionally" (Boaden, Memoirs, 1:162 n1). While the sentiment cannot be disputed here, her stutter in the 1784 performance of The Mogul Tale suggests that it was part of her professional life, if only at times. Further, according to an undated anecdote recorded by John Taylor, Inchbald is known to have burst into the green room one night while working at Covent Garden under Harris and stuttered in front of the other players. Records of My Life, vol. 1 (London, 1832), 399. Based upon Ben E Robertson's chronology of Inchbald's theatrical engagements, this would have happened sometime between 1780 and 1789. "Chronology of Events in Elizabeth Inchbald's Life," The Diaries of Elizabeth Inchbald, vol. 1 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007), xxix. Further evidence for the persistence of Inchbald's stutter exists in the form of a rather cryptic and unfortunately undated letter from George Hardinge to Inchbald in which Hardinge refers to her speaking to him about her speech impediment (Boaden, Memoirs, 2, appendix). This means that she was stuttering, or was still emotionally affected by her stuttering, after 1791, since it was on account of Hardinge's appreciation for A Simple Story (1791) that he and Inchbald became friends and correspondents. Thus, the letter must have been sent some time after 1791, and more likely some time after 1792, when Inchbald was nearly forty years old.

(30) Elizabeth Inchbald, Preface to A Simple Story, ed. Anna Lott (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2007), 55. All subsequent references, abbreviated SS, are to this edition, and are placed in parentheses after the text.

(31) According to Spencer, Inchbald's "own literary interests were sharpened by her speech difficulties. Ambitious from an early age to become an actress, she worked hard to overcome her stammer, and in early 1770 attempted to get an engagement at the Norwich Theatre" (ODNB).

(32) All that remains of the "Auto-Biography" is, as Boaden puts it "a kind of Shandyan table of contents" (2.231). Because Inchbald never discussed her stutter with Boaden in any detail, and because we do not have her "Auto-Biography," we cannot say with any degree of certainty what the extent, nature, or severity of her stutter was. Although every stutter presents differently, and everyone's experience of having a speech impairment will be different, it may nevertheless be useful to provide some definition of the term. One recent history of stuttering by Benson Bobrick (who had a stutter) defines it symptomatically: "involuntary repetitions or prolongations of sounds with blocking or other spasmodic interruptions in the rhythmical flow of speech, stuttering may, from case to case, include blinking and other facial tics, tremors of the lips and jaw, gasping, stamping of the feet, jerking of the head, contortions of the whole body, and even foaming at the mouth as in an epileptic fit." Of the psychological effects of stuttering, Bobrick adds that "no one stutters all the time, and every stutterer is capable of fluent asides, [but] in the daily anticipation of glottal catastrophe, the disorder is apt to dominate the victim's social and emotional life." Knotted Tongues (New York: Kodansha, 1996), 19.

(33) This is a variation of Lennard Davis's claims concerning Boswell's Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding's character Amelia, where the principal figures "bear the mark but not the sign" of disability ("Dr. Johnson," 69). Davis notes the absence of a discourse of disability; in the eighteenth century characters have abnormal bodies, but are not thought of in terms of disability. It might be argued that the discourse of sensibility had a monopoly on bodily representations during the period and that it had to be invalidated for a discourse of disability to emerge.

(34) Gerard Freiherr van Swieten, "Of Wounds in the Head," Commentaries upon Boerhaave's Aphorisms concerning the Knowledge and Cure of Diseases, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1776), 402.

(35) John Trusler, The Difference between Words Esteemed Synonymous in the English Language, 2 vols. (3d ed., London, 1794-95), 2:41, finds the semantic distinction ambiguous enough to offer clarification: "He who stutters is at a loss for articulation. He who stammers, at a loss for words." Trusler considers each "a defect of speech," and Inchbald's contemporaries used them interchangeably.

(36) Maria Edgeworth to Elizabeth Inchbald, 14 January 1810: "Appendix B" in A Simple Story, ed. Anna Lott (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2007), 385.

(37) Marc Shell, Stutter (Harvard U. Press, 2005), 21, 23.

(38) It is not my intention to argue that moments such as these are not a part of the discourse of sensibility, but to recover the materiality of speechlessness by bringing the figure of disability into the fold.

(39) Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. "utter."

(40) Such signs typically signify an authenticity that language cannot; they emerge, that is, from a space untainted by the influence of the vain, corrupt, and scheming world. In sentimental fictions like Pamela or David Simple consciousness of emotional propriety is presented as suspect; thus, by making a "good" character passive with respect to emotional or erotic display, those characters avoid suspicions of artificiality. In the case of A Simple Story, however, we should not simply chalk this passivity up to the author's need to exonerate her protagonists from the charge of emotional duplicity, since authenticity derives quite palpably from the undeniable distress and suffering enjoined by the circumstances of the story. There is no occasion to charge the sternly moralistic Sandford with duplicity in his tears since he has just seen Lady Elmwood lamentably perish in a rustic hovel; nor can one can accuse Lord Elmwood of crocodile tears when he weeps over the desperate letter of his dead wife pleading for the care of her orphaned daughter. These scenes (and many others as well) could have been written with the character in the subject position--Sanford wept, Rushbrook broke down, and so forth--but Inchbald insists on the involuntary nature of emotional expression, on making her characters the indirect object of emotional display.

(41) Ato Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (Columbia U. Press, 2007), 17.

(42) Shell, Stutter, 47.

(43) Elizabeth Inchbald, Nature and Art, ed. Shawn Lisa Maurer (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005). All subsequent references, abbreviated NA, are to this edition, and are placed in parentheses after the text.

(44) For a recent view, seeA. A. Markley, Conversion and Reform in the British Novel in the 1790s: A Revolution of Opinions (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), esp. 46-47.

(45) The relation of pregnancy to disability is a complex matter at the center of many debates in a variety of forums. For my purposes, Hannah's misfortunes stem from the fact that characters in Inchbald's story treat her pregnancy as they might treat a disability.
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Author:Codr, Dwight
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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