This remarkable volume examines the process by which three deaf, French biographers from the 19th and 20th centuries attempted to cross the cultural divide between deaf and hearing worlds through their work. The very different approach taken by each writer sheds light on determining at what point an individual’s assimilation into society endangers his or her sense of personal identity.
Author Hartig begins by assessing the publications of Jean-Ferdinand Berthier (1803–1886). Berthier wrote about Auguste Bébian, Abbé de l’Epée, and Abbé Sicard, all of whom taught at the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris. Although Berthier presented compelling portraits of their entire lives, he paid special attention to their political and social activism, his main interest.
Yvonne Pitrois (1880-1937) pursued her particular interest in the lives of deaf-blind people. Her biography of Helen Keller focused on her subject’s destiny in conjunction with her unique relationship with Anne Sullivan. Corinne Rocheleau-Rouleau (1881-1963) recounted the historical circumstances that led French-Canadian pioneer women to leave France. The true value of her work resides in her portraits of these pioneer women: maternal women, warriors, religious women, with an emphasis on their lives and the choices they made.
Crossing the Divide reveals clearly the passion these biographers shared for narrating the lives of those they viewed as heroes of an emerging French deaf community. All three used the genre of biography not only as a means of external exploration but also as a way to plumb their innermost selves and to resolve ambivalence about their own deafness.