Essays in Romanticism

“I Never Saw Such Children”: Disability, Industrialism, and Children’s Advocacy in William Godwin’s Fleetwood

Essays in Romanticism (2017), 24, (2), 125–143.

Abstract

Drawing upon current studies of disability and Romanticism, this essay invites literary historians to consider the ways impairment intersects with poverty and age in the Romantic era, as well as the ways in which late eighteenth-century reform writers sought to prevent disability even as they helped constitute it as a category of difference. The essay uses William Godwin’s Fleetwood or the New Man of Feeling (1805) as a case study to explore the history of the factory reform act from a disability studies perspective. The Factory Reform Act of 1802 sought to protect child laborers from environmental and occupational impairment, though it ultimately failed to do so effectively. I argue that William Godwin’s Fleetwood (1805) criticized the Factory Act of 1802 by demonstrating the inability of its educational provision to protect children from neurological impairments resulting from factory labor.

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Gustafson, Katherine