Monday, August 5, 2013

Happy birthday, Elephant Man

It is the birthday of the Elephant Man (1862), whose severe deformities made him more than a curiosity in Victorian England and throughout Europe. Unable to find conventional work, Joseph Merrick hired himself out to be exhibited as a human novelty. Showmen promoted him as "Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant." He made money from a biographical pamphlet that was published under his name, The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick (1884). Though his ailment was never fully diagnosed, Merrick fell under the care of Dr. Frederick Treves and lived at the end of his life at London Hospital. He died at the age of 27. Treves wrote The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923). Other books on Merrick include Ashley Montegu's The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (1971), The True Story of the Elephant Man (1992), and Articulating the Elephant Man: Joseph Merrick and his Interpreters (1992). Merrick's story was told in a Broadway play, The Elephant Man (1979) and a film of the same name in 1980.

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