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Crossing the Divide

Representations of Deafness in Biography

Rachel M. Hartig

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vi

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pp. vii-ix

... Padden and Humphries discuss how “battling against lives proposed by others” (110) is a central theme in the lives of deaf people in American society. For deaf people, integration into the world of others too often meant enforced oralism and the denial of American Sign Language (ASL) and the culture that it defined and expressed. ...

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pp. xi-xii

... both in its conception and realization, owes so much to so many friends and colleagues. My particular thanks to Vic Van Cleve and Ivey Pittle Wallace of Gallaudet University Press.Vic helped me to formulate the project and Ivey to present my ideas in the clearest possible way. Both were a constant source of encouragement and support. Thanks, as well, to my excellent colleagues at the Gallaudet Research ...

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1. On the Nature of Biographical Form: Is Biography Disguised Autobiography?

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pp. 1-16

... is marked by the spirit of free inquiry. As readers, we do not expect biographers to allow preconceived ideas to dictate judgments. We expect them to be guided by the facts, unimpeded by either admiration or hostility. This differs from an earlier era when a biographer might write uncritically about a friend or family member ...

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2. Crossing the Divide: Yvonne Pitrois and Helen Keller Dialogue about Disability

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pp. 17-31

... the person living with a difference most effectively cross the cultural divide and explain herself to mainstream society? This is a central question raised by Yvonne Pitrois in her biography of Helen Keller entitled Une nuit rayonnante: Helen Keller (A Shining Night: Helen Keller), to which Helen Keller responded. At the time that Pitrois’s biography of Keller was published in 1922, Helen Keller (1880–1968) was known worldwide as an extraordinary ...

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3. Jean-Ferdinand Berthier: The Development of an Activist

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pp. 32-77

... was a deaf militant before the age of militants, an ardent defender of sign language and a promoter of the emancipation of deaf people. He was, as well, a skilled writer of treatises, essays, and biographies. His life was spent in an effort to encourage deaf people to celebrate sign language, while at the same time inviting hearing people to share in this rich heritage. The ...

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4. Yvonne Pitrois: A Journey from Darkness to Light

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pp. 78-108

... was born in Paris, both hearing and sighted, on December 14, 1880, but the greater part of her childhood was spent in a large family mansion in the city of Tours, in the south of France. Madame Marguerite Pitrois, Yvonne’s mother, had been left a widow with two young daughters, Yvonne and an older sister, in Paris, but had initiated a move to Tours, thinking she could more easily raise ...

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5. Corinne Rocheleau: Rescripting Life as a Deaf Woman

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pp. 109-134

... an accomplished Franco-American deaf feminist, essayist, and biographer, challenged the norms of early-twentieth- century society by the way in which she lived her life and by her adept chronicling of her own experience of marginality and that of others. Her biographies reflect her efforts to negotiate and expand the boundaries of her life and to reconnect in a creative way with the society ...

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6. Biography in Deaf Hands: An Analysis

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pp. 135-148

... of Corinne Rocheleau, none of the writers discussed in this volume wrote autobiographical narratives. Certainly there was a lack of deaf autobiographical models in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But does this alone explain why Jean-Ferdinand Berthier, Yvonne Pitrois, and Corinne Rocheleau did not write about their own lives? ...


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pp. 149-154


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pp. 155-158


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pp. 159-161

E-ISBN-13: 9781563683725
E-ISBN-10: 1563683725
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563682988
Print-ISBN-10: 1563682982

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 5 photographs
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 191726388
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Crossing the Divide

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Subject Headings

  • Berthier, Jean-Ferdinand, 1803-1886.
  • Pitrois, Yvonne.
  • Rocheleau-Rouleau, Corinne, 1881-1963.
  • Deaf -- History.
  • Deaf -- Biography.
  • Biographers -- Biography.
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