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Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’

- July 24, 2013 in Articles, david lynch, deformity, elephant man, freakshow, History, joseph merrick, Science, sideshow, tom norman, victorian

Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was exploited during his time in a Victorian ‘freakshow’, and asks if it wasn’t perhaps the medical establishment, often seen as his saviour, who really took advantage of the man and his condition. The scenes are among the most heartless in cinema history: a drunken, abusive showman exhibiting the severely deformed Joseph Merrick to horrified punters. David Lynch’s The Elephant Man begins with its lead character being treated little better than an animal in a cage. But it soon finds a clean-cut hero in the ambitious young surgeon Frederick Treves, who rescues the hapless Merrick from his keeper and gives him permanent shelter at the London Hospital. Supported by charitable donations, the victim recovers his humanity: he learns to speak again (in a decidedly middle-class accent), to entertain society guests and to dress and behave like a well-heeled young dandy. Merrick, no more the degraded show freak, reveals his inner goodness and spirituality and dies happy. Lynch’s movie is based largely on Treves’ sentimental chronicle. But that narrative is merely one version of events – and one that in the end tells us more about middle-class [...]

Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’

- July 24, 2013 in Articles, Culture & History, david lynch, deformity, elephant man, freakshow, joseph merrick, Science & Medicine, sideshow, tom norman, victorian

Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant M…