The True History of the Elephant Man Critical Essays

Peter Ford, Michael Howell


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

This biography of Merrick is presented as an informative account, providing young adult readers with more of a medical than an emotional view of its subject’s life. Nevertheless, The True History of the Elephant Man is of interest to a young adult audience because of its central theme: the need for society to accept the physically handicapped.

The authors approach the realities of the time period objectively; they seem to understand the social structure of Victorian England without judging it too harshly. Nevertheless, the detailed accounts of the daily life in the workhouses of England and of the sideshows that took advantage of the physically deformed individuals of that era may shock the young adult reader. Such descriptions will certainly make them more appreciative of the improvements in the care of the infirm in modern society.

Howell and Ford present the attitudes of the late nineteenth century through first-hand accounts, quoting the journals of Merrick’s contemporaries. In order to engage the reader, the authors also emphasize Merrick’s relationships to famous figures of the Victorian and Edwardian courts. For example, the book describes how he was accepted by the Princess of Wales; the reader is led to understand that this acceptance offered Merrick a place in London society. Soon, it became fashionable to visit this young man, as it was considered noble to be acquainted with one who had so recently been shunned by the...

(The entire section is 507 words.)