Cover image for Reflections : the life and writings of a young blind woman in post-revolutionary France
Reflections : the life and writings of a young blind woman in post-revolutionary France
Husson, Thérèse-Adèle, 1803-1831.
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xv, 155 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm.
General Note:
Includes text of the author's Reflections and her Note on the author's youth.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV1967.H87 H86 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves.

In rescuing this important historical account and recreating the life of an obscure but potent figure, Weygand and Kudlick have awakened a perspective that transcends time and which, ultimately, remaps our inherent ideas of physical sensibility

Author Notes

Catherine J. Kudlick is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis
Zina Weygand is a researcher at the Laboratoire Brigitte Frybourg pour L'Insertion Sociale des Personnes Handicapees at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris
Therese-Adele Husson (1803-1831) was the author of numerous novels and essays published in mid-nineteenth-century Paris

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

While glancing through the archives of Paris's Quinze-Vingts Hospital, one of the few schools for blind people in the first half of the 19th century, scholars Kudlick and Weygand came across a fascinating manuscript that had gone unread for more than 175 years. It was a petition for lodging by Husson, a 22-year-old blind woman, to the director of the hospital. Writing with insight, clarity and tenderness, Husson details her experience: the difficulty of eating with guests, the joy of feeling sun on her face, her delight at being able to distinguish percale from chiffon with only a glancing touch. Although Husson wrote in a markedly different time, and some of her advice is charmingly outdated (e.g., all blind youngsters should avoid Voltaire and Rousseau to prevent "overexcited feelings"), the simplicity of most of her observations and her overwhelming sincerity are timeless: "every [flower] that has a sweet odor introduces a feeling into our souls that resembles them." Kudlick and Weygand discuss Husson's later life and novels to give a fuller picture of the young woman, then supply a brief but fascinating glimpse into the role of women, religion, disability and notions of the self in early 19th-century France. As well as discussing the social mores of the time, the authors also plumb the depths of Husson's fiction for additional insight into her perspective specifically and into the experience of blind people generally. Their detective work in finding Husson's novels (published under a pen name) and other early writings on disability is notable and provides a useful background for this valuable work of early feminism and disability studies. 8 b&w illus. (Nov. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Kudlick (history, Univ. of California, Davis; Cholera in Post-Revolutionary Paris) and Weygand, a researcher in Paris and author of numerous articles on the history of the blind, translate and comment upon this essay by a blind French woman. Husson (1803-1831) wrote the essay for an admissions application to a prestigious school for the blind, and it was stored in the school's basement until being discovered by Kudlick and Weygand. Offering insight into the compelling history of people with disabilities, this is one of the earliest accounts written by someone with an actual disability rather than by an observer or educator. It is also one of the earliest records of solidarity among blind people, advocating self-sufficiency and independence as well as education for blind children. Husson's essay also reveals aspects of gender roles of the time. In addition to the essay, the book provides historical context and biographical details, including Husson's secret identity as a prolific author, her marriage, and her early death by fire. Recommended for history, women's studies, and disability history collections. Mary Salony, West Virginia Northern Community Coll., Wheeling (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One On the Gait and Demeanor of the Blind I shall first speak of how we walk, which is considered trembling and uncertain. Forgive me, dear reader, if I dare to say frankly that this is less our fault than it is that of those who surround us. When a very young blind child makes a few steps on his own, his parents or his friends hasten to tell him in a tone easily recognized as horror, "Be careful, you will hurt yourself; if I were you I wouldn't dare take such risks!" These warnings, which come from people with only the most loving of intentions, inspire in us suspicion, even terror that is impossible to overcome. The people charged with looking after us would render an important service by protecting us at an early age against such fears that so often are only imaginary. I anticipate the response of my readers, who are convinced that blind people should always remain in a state of complete immobility. Watching the blind walking or doing things will naturally lead those who watch over us with affectionate interest to assume that we are in danger, but this exists only in their imagination. One couldn't be more useful to us than by accustoming us from childhood on to walk without a guide, and by building up our courage with kind and reassuring words from the earliest age. In my family no one ever stopped repeating over and over, "Don't be afraid of anything, I'm watching over you." So I placed all my confidence in this promise, and I played happily with girls my own age.     Since I've promised to speak sincerely, I should also add that a certain degree of coquettishness also enters into how we carry ourselves, and here I speak only of female companions of misfortune. When we are confident enough to be clothed in a pretty dress and dainty shoes, decked out in these luxurious things, which mean as much to us as they do to people who see, we wouldn't want to sit or stand the way we are used to and the way we think we should because we're so worried about how we might look. For us it seems like the slightest movement will alter the beauty of our clothes. This fear gives us the appearance of being extremely self-conscious, a terrible embarrassment spreads over us, the source of which remains a mystery for those who look at us; instead they attribute our awkwardness to the griefs brought by our afflicted situation. We thus inspire tender emotions as people console us, feel sorry for us, when in fact they should be punishing our pride. It's surely because of the pretty dress and pretty shoes that we don't even dare to take a step, even being guided. Our guide will not even notice the elegance of our finery, which water and pebbles will surely ruin. This fear increases our mistrust, and it's only with difficulty that we put one foot in front of the other. Our apprehensions gradually slow down our gait and make it uneven, which has always led me to believe that we must tire the person who offers us the help of his arm. I was never allowed to forget that we carry ourselves rigidly. Nothing could be further from the truth, but if we lean backwards, it's easy to imagine, given how suspicious and fearful we are naturally, how much we dread bumping into objects in our way. I also know that people reproach us for tilting our heads upwards, but I will respond that this position comes from the rigidity of how we carry ourselves. I've thought seriously about how I could eliminate these faults, which result from deeply ingrained habits. All my efforts have been fruitless, and I no longer flatter myself with the hope of seeing them crowned with success. Excerpted from Reflections by Thérèse-Adèle Husson. Copyright (c) 2001 by New York University. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Bonnie G. SmithCatherine J. Kudlick and Zina WeygandAdele HussonTherese-Adele FoucaultZina Weygand and Catherine J. Kudlick
Forewordp. xi
I. Introductionp. 1
II. Reflections on the Physical and Moral Condition of the Blindp. 15
III. Note on the Author's Youthp. 67
IV. Reflections on a Manuscript, a Life, and a Worldp. 75
Notesp. 143
About the Authorsp. 155