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The rhetoric of disfigurement in First World War Britain

Biernoff, Suzannah (2011) The rhetoric of disfigurement in First World War Britain. Social History of Medicine 24 (3), pp. 666-685. ISSN 0951-631X.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkq095

Abstract

During the First World War, the horror of facial mutilation was evoked in journalism, poems, memoirs and fiction; but in Britain it was almost never represented visually outside the professional contexts of clinical medicine and medical history. This article asks why, and offers an account of British visual culture in which visual anxiety and aversion are of central importance. By comparing the rhetoric of disfigurement to the parallel treatment of amputees, an asymmetrical picture emerges in which the ‘worst loss of all’—the loss of one’s face—is perceived as a loss of humanity. The only hope was surgical or, if that failed, prosthetic repair: innovations that were often wildly exaggerated in the popular press. Francis Derwent Wood was one of several sculptors whose technical skill and artistic ‘wizardry’ played a part in the improvised reconstruction of identity and humanity.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The research for this article was supported by a Wellcome Trust Research Leave Award [no. 082864]
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): disfigurement, plastic surgery, prosthetics, visual culture, First World War
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Arts > History of Art
Depositing User: Dr Suzannah Biernoff
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2012 17:52
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2014 11:51
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/5648

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