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29 Artificial Leg Va n essa Wa r n e • The Marquess of Anglesey was famous for his legs. When Anglesey lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo, the amputated limb became an object of enduring public interest.1 In 1815, a commemorative plaque was erected at the leg’s burial place; in 1831, Blackwood’s Magazine featured a debate on the Reform Bill between a thinly disguised “Anglesea” and the ghost of his amputated leg; and, when Anglesey died in 1854, an image of the leg’s burial place was included in the Illustrated London News’ coverage of his funeral.2 Anglesey, who came to be known as “One-Leg,” also brought fame to the artificial legs he wore. Invented by James Potts of London and manufactured by both Potts and his successors, the style of leg Anglesey favoured became known as the “Anglesey leg,” and he was said to have ordered as many as four of these legs at a time (Gray 21). Demonstrating and fuelling public interest in amputees and in their experiences of limb loss and limb replacement, the celebrity of Anglesey’s legs, both real and artificial, hints at the disquieting prominence of prosthetic legs inVictorian culture. Like most pre-WWI prosthetic limbs, Anglesey legs were made of wood. These legs were often described as “cork legs,” a widely used and misleading nineteenth-century colloquialism for artificial legs. In 1905, American limb maker George Marks tried to correct popular misconceptions about cork legs, explaining that cork was too friable for limb making and attributing the misnomer to “the fact that years ago very good artificial legs were made in Cork, Ireland, which were called Cork legs” (147). Most artificial legs were articulated at the knee; some, including the Anglesey, had a second movable joint at the ankle.The mechanisms of these joints were metal and were designed to lock automatically and then to release, allowing the leg to imitate the striding motion of a natural leg. Leather or catgut served for tendons, and rubber heels or soles lessened the jarring caused by wooden feet. Lace-up leather sleeves secured the leg to the stump. Short stumps necessitated the addition of straps worn around the waist, suspenders worn over the shoulders, or straps that attached to a corset. Some artificial legs functioned as a kind of miniature crutch, supporting the weight of the body via the sleeve and thereby avoiding direct contact between the prosthesis and the potentially sensitive and injuryprone tip of the amputated limb. Manufacturers were understandably eager to characterize their prostheses as near-perfect substitutes for lost limbs. In a two hundred-page cataloguecum -treatise entitled Automatic Mechanism, British limb maker Frederick Gray, a successor of James Potts, explained of one client that “the aid I afforded him has been so complete, that he walks with as much ease, and with as little fatigue, as before he suffered amputation” (159). Of another, he wrote that “he can victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 30 now walk as well as he did before the loss of his natural limb rendered my services necessary” (159). Gray also emphasized the natural appearance of the limbs he made. He bragged that when the father of a young female client was asked for permission to publish news of a particularly successful transition from surgery to prosthesis-wearing in the Lancet, the father “objected on the ground that the loss of her foot had been so perfectly supplied that nobody was aware of it; and he, very naturally, under the circumstances, did not wish to enlighten such happy ignorance” (160). While Gray disguised a lengthy advertisement for his business as a book,most limb makers were far more direct. In 1871, an anonymous essayist described his experience of the aggressive marketing of limbs to recent amputees: Your morning mail is swelled … by circulars of various artificial limb-makers, giving diagrams of sundry legs, and testimonials of people who have walked, danced, and run better than ever with them.You almost gather the impression that it would be better to be born with legs, arms and head perhaps, all wood, ready patented—a second Frankenstein. (“One-Legged Men” 355...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 29-33
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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