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Who has a disability? As it turns out, almost everyone, in real life as in fiction. Our symposium will take an intersectional approach to examining the roles of queer, disabled and non-normative bodies and sensibilities both in early modern British novels and in contemporary autobiographical narratives. Apprehending non-normativity as located in the social and political relations among bodies and minds understood as impaired or different, we hope to see how fiction and reality combine to create conditions of possibility for appreciating the ways in disability and queerness categorize and inform our experiences of living in the world. As much as in our humanity, so in our disabilities and queerness, we are all united.

Rachael Adams, Columbia University

“When Mothers Kill:  Care, Crip Temporality, and Failure”

Sensational stories of mothers who kill their children involve fraught intersections of race, gender, ability, and economic status.  They also highlight the failure of current systems of care.  This talk attempts to reconcile competing claims by feminist and disability advocates by thinking about care as networked interdependency.


Jason Farr, Texas A&M University

“Crip Gothic: Queerness and Disability in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764)”

Often regarded as the first British gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) is a key literary text for conceptualizing how disability shapes sexuality in the eighteenth century. Through the fraught relationship between the novel’s tyrant character, Manfred, and his chronically ill son, Conrad, Walpole critiques heteronormative and ableist assumptions that undergird the system of primogeniture and early theories of degeneracy.


Ula Klein, A&M International University

" 'Not Much in Her Appearance to Captivate': Representing Fanny's Disabled Embodiment in Mansfield Park”

Critics and readers alike have characterized Jane Austen’s character Fanny Price as the most unlikable of her heroines, in large part due to her moral uprightness, but also due to her physical and emotional weaknesses. In this talk, Klein looks at Fanny’s representation in Mansfield Park as a heroine disabled by chronic weakness and ill health and how it forces readers to confront the not-healthy body and the ways in which disability intersects with issues of class and gender.

The Participants

Rachel Adams                      

Rachel Adams is Professor of English at Columbia University, where she is a 2017-2018 fellow at the Heyman Center for the Humanities.  She is the author of Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery, Continental Divides: Remapping the Cultures of North America and Sideshow USA: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination and co-editor of Keywords for Disability Studies.  In 2010 she received the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for research and teaching. 

Jason Farr 

Jason Farr currently serves as Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, where he researches and teaches courses in eighteenth-century British literature and culture, disability studies, and queer and gender studies. His work appears in venues such as Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and the collection, The Idea of Disability in the Eighteenth Century. His presentation is an excerpt from his book manuscript-in-progress, “Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature.”


 Ula Klein

Ula Klein is an Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, TX. She specializes in the literature of the eighteenth century and issues of gender, sexuality, and embodiment. Her current book project examines the ways in which female cross-dressing narratives re-negotiate categories of gender and sexuality in the long eighteenth century. She has previously written about issues of embodiment and desire in the novel Belinda in the article, “Bosom Friends and the Sapphic Breasts of Belinda,” published in ABO: Interactive Journal of Women in the Arts, 1640-1830, and, more recently, her article “Eighteenth-Century Female Cross-Dressers and Their Beards” appeared in the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies