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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Disabling Charlotte Smith: A Marxist, Crip Theory Analysis of Class, Gender, Labor, and Disability in Romantic Poetry

  • Author(s): Cepollina, Jacob
  • Advisor(s): Nersessian, Anahid
  • et al.

This thesis analyzes the correlations between labor, class, gender, and disability in Charlotte Smith’s poetry, while specifically using a Marxist frame of analysis in conjunction with contemporary disability studies theories to argue for the structural determination of her laboring position. As she continues laboring from this position that is determined by her status as a working-class woman writer, Smith becomes disabled, and the manifestations of her disability change over time. In addition to her need to write constantly to survive, Smith was caring for twelve children without her husband (who was in debtor’s prison) present. As a result, Smith’s labor needs to be analyzed not only from a laboring-to-survive framework, but also in conjunction with the reality that she needed to constantly transition between working to survive and providing emotional and care labor for her children with very little assistance. By using an intersectional analysis to see how these systems of oppression impacted Smith’s lived experience—namely gender, class, and disability-based oppression—I hope to argue for the presence of a systemic process by which Smith becomes disabled, and that this process results in a near inevitability of disability often times. At the same time, however, I will posit disability as a positive identity, and fight strongly for disabled people’s validity whether or not they have a medical diagnosis, as these diagnoses always need to be defined in terms of access, rather than being considered the only avenue through which disability is possible.

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