A Novel Consciousness: A Practical Exploration of Fiction's Capacity to Represent Deafblindness

Penelope Rudge

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Dual sensory impairment or ‘deafblindness’ imposes a special quality of engagement between the self and the social world. Yet novels, which specialise in the exploration of human subjectivity, have failed spectacularly to capture this. This thesis analyses the gap in representation and investigates narrative techniques that offer the potential to better represent the particularity of the experience. To achieve this, it takes a multidisciplinary approach that brings together research into literature, disability, consciousness, psychology and linguistics in order to construct a revised understanding of sensory loss and its place within the diversity of human experience.

The first chapter shows that Western literature has an overwhelming propensity to use motifs of deafness and bllndness for metaphorical effect. Further, through a politicised disability studies analysis, this chapter identifies mechanisms by which such an onslaught of fictional depictions does not merely reflect but actively shapes unhelpful attitudes towards deaf and blind people in life. As a result, a new attitudinal model of classification is proposed, whereby disability tropes are framed according to their determining (and explicitly prejudicial) sociocultural attitudes rather than by the resulting constructs of symbolised defect.

The second chapter builds on this analysis in order to suggest a way forward. It examines innovative techniques of rendering consciousness that were pioneered by Henry James and Virginia Woolf and considers how these might be adapted to a deafblind context. In the process, it draws upon a related enquiry, laid out in the appendix, into why consciousness has the potential to be structurally different for a deafblind person.

The third chapter then assesses the thesis-writer’s own creative engagement with representing deafblindness. It reports on a process of experimentation with the narrative methods outlined in Chapter 2 and discusses the adaptations and reformulations that ensued. Finally, an extract from the resulting work, a novel titled Kindness is a Language, completes the thesis.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Motion, Andrew, Supervisor
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Nov 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Henry Green
  • Virginia Woolf
  • James Joyce
  • Henry James
  • metaphor
  • Consciousness
  • Daniel Dennett
  • Multiple Drafts
  • Narrative Analysis

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