William Wordsworth’s Nose

While best known as Shakespeare’s death date and birthday, 23 April marked the anniversary of the death of another of England’s great poets—William Wordsworth (7/4/1770-23/4/1850). While visiting his former home, Dove Cottage, and the Wordsworth Museum this week, I was amused by the description provided for the famous portrait of him by Henry Edridge in the temporary exhibition curated by Michael Thompson: “This portrait was probably drawn in May 1806 while Wordsworth was a guest of Sir George Beaumont in London. As a society painter, Edridge has tidied up Wordsworth’s strong features; chiefly his nose” (my emphasis).

I was informed by one of the cottage guides that the family referred to this picture as the ‘dandy portrait’, and that its artistic license was a continuing source of amusement. Comparison with other portraits does suggest that the artist has softened William’s strong nose, which gives us an interesting little insight into fashionable physiognomy of the time.

Wordsworth by Henry Edridge 1806

William Wordsworth by Henry Edridge, 1806. Copyright The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere.


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Ears and Breasts?

A tenuous link, perhaps, but I was intrigued by this interview with Timmie Jean Lindsey, a resident of Texas who in 1962 became the first woman to receive silicon breast implants. An interesting story in itself, but for our purposes made more so by the revelation that she agreed to the experimental procedure on the proviso that the surgeons also attended to a face-related issue of greater concern to her:

Lindsey had been to hospital to get a tattoo removed from her breasts, and it was then that doctors asked if she would consider volunteering for this first-of-its-kind operation.

“I was more concerned about getting my ears pinned back… My ears stood out like Dumbo! And they said ‘Oh we’ll do that too.'” So a deal was struck.

This procedure is called otoplasty or pinnaplasty. Today it is usually carried out on young children or teenagers, and is sometimes available on the NHS on the grounds of psychological distress (it is in fact the only aesthetic procedure I’ve ever seriously considered, and school bullying played a key role. There was a song and everything! The joys of childhood…). There is some more information about the mechanics of the operation on the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons’ website.

Lindsey’s awareness of the procedure suggested that it was older than I had assumed, so there has been some quick digging. There is a history of headwear being used to try to bind the ears closer to the head, and so train them inwards. In his discussion of the clothing of children from 1797, George Nicholson writes that “Caps, or something like them, are fixed on the heads of our children soon after birth, and made to bind the external ear closer to the skull than was ever naturally intended. Mothers and nurses think nothing more unbecoming an infant than prominent ears; and ladies are in general so averse to them that they hide them as a deformity.” Nicholson actually warns about the dangers of over-zealous ‘correction’, stating that “Hearing is lessened by flattening the ears” (pp. 38–39). A century later, help was available by mail order from Claxton’s in the Strand:

Claxtons ear cap 1891

Claxton’s ear cap for remedying prominent ears. From The Graphic (London), Saturday 26 December 1891, issue 1152 (British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900)

Surgeries to reconstruct the ear are included in a range of historical texts– the sixth-century BCE Suśruta Samhita from India, Bolognese surgeon Gaspare Tagliaccozzi’s De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem (1597), and Die Operative Chirurgie (1845) by Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach. According to Samuel M. Lam, the credit for the first aesthetic pinning goes to Edward Talbot Ely (1850-1885). In 1881, at the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, he operated on a twelve-year-old boy who, Ely says, came to him “complaining that his companions ridiculed him on account of the prominence of his ears. He had this common deformity of the auricles to a somewhat unusual degree” (Ely, p.582).

There is an interesting tension in Ely’s description of a ‘common deformity’ appearing to an ‘unusual degree’, given the fraught division often made between reconstructive and purely aesthetic surgeries. In the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ descriptions, reconstructive surgery includes procedures “performed on abnormal structures of the body”, while aesthetic operations are any modifications of “normal” appearing anatomical structures; such divisions, as Diane Naugler and other critics of surgical interventions highlight, necessitate careful scrutiny about the definition of the normal.

How such tensions were recognised and resolved historically is of course an ongoing question in the Effaced project.



Edward Ely, ‘An Operation for Prominence of the Auricles‘ (1881), reprinted in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery 42.6 (1968): 582-583.

Samuel M. Lam, ‘Edward Talbot Ely: Father of Aesthetic Otoplasty‘, Arch Facial Plast Surg 6.1 (2004):64. doi:10.1001/archfaci.6.1.64.

Diane Naugler, ‘Crossing the Cosmetic/Reconstructive Divide: The Instructive Situation of Breast Reduction Surgery’, in Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer, ed. Cressida J. Heyes and Meredith Jones (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 226.

George Nicholson, On Clothing (London: 1797).

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New Effaced Team Publication

Many congratulations to Effaced member Suzannah Biernoff, whose latest book, Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement is now out with University of Michigan Press. Suzannah provided a fascinating keynote on this material for our conference, so we’ll look forward to reading the full report.

From the publisher’s description:

Portraits of Violence explores the image and idea of facial disfigurement in one of its most troubling modern formations, as a symbol and consequence of war. It opens with Nina Berman’s iconic photograph Marine Wedding, which provoked a debate about the medical, military, and psychological response to serious combat injuries. While these issues remain urgent, it is equally crucial to interrogate the representation of war and injury. The concepts of valor, heroism, patriotism, and courage assume visible form and do their cultural work when they are personified and embodied. The mutilated or disabled veteran’s body can connote the brutalizing, dehumanizing potential of modern combat.

Just to seal the deal, orders placed through the publisher’s website before 8 May receive 30% off the list price with the code ‘UMBIERNOFF’. While you wait by the letterbox, you can revisit her latest post for us on face transplantation and the French film Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face).

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PhD Studentship: ‘“False Teeth for the Masses”: Artificial Teeth as Technologies, Prostheses and Commodities in Britain, 1848-1948’, University of Kent.

Canny undergraduates interested in facial difference (or the university staff who know them) might be interested in this PhD studentship being advertised by the Centre for the History of Medicine, Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Kent, in collaboration with the Science Museum: ‘“False Teeth for the Masses”: Artificial Teeth as Technologies, Prostheses and Commodities in Britain, 1848-1948.’ The project will be supervised by Dr Claire L. Jones at the University of Kent and Dr Oisín Wall at the Science Museum.

It sounds fascinating! While we eagerly await the results of this research, we can revisit nineteenth-century artificial teeth in the story of Mollie Dorsey Sanford’s flying wax tooth.


The only remaining full sett of George Washington’s teeth, at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

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CFP: The Porous Body in Renaissance Europe

Given Effaced’s interests in the exposed, perforated, marked or otherwise unusual facial skin, our readers might be interested in this call for papers from the Renaissance Skin project, based at Kings College, London:

King’s College, London, November 30 – December 1, 2017
Deadline: May 30, 2017

Renaissance Skin 1st Annual Conference: ‘The Porous Body in Early Modern Europe’

In early modern medical theory, skin was imagined as a porous boundary. Plato, Hippocrates and Galen all agreed on the permeable quality of the skin, which the sixteenth century physician Mercurialis described as a ‘fisherman’s net’, easily pierced and difficult to protect. Its porous nature invited speculation about sweat, urine, blood and tears, and its susceptibility to disease focused civic debates about the environment, atmosphere, humours and astrology. Treatments like blood-letting, cupping and purging sought to maintain its integrity through the counter-intuitive manoeuvers of piercing it, while, as a canvas upon which the signs of disease could be read, it invited medical participation from lay and learned alike. Écorché models, anatomical illustrations and artistic representations of flayed skin spoke to the ease with which skin could be set aside, even while new genres of portraiture, and artisanal cosmetic practices valorized it as a cultural determiner of beauty, purity and individuality. The malleability of cutis in early modern artistic, medical and artisanal discourses called into question not just the healthy, moral individual’s relationship with skin, but the boundaries between medicine, the individual and their environment as well.
This interdisciplinary conference aims to consider the porousness of the early modern body as physiologically, emotionally, and socially constituted, depicted in art, debated in print and played out in a dizzying array of social practices. Historical focus on skin has often been highly anthropocentric; but bodies were not just human; nor were the porous properties of skin defined by medicine alone. As flesh it was eaten, as fur it was worn, as leather it was worked. We invite papers which consider the relationship of human, animal and matter and investigate the variety of ways porousness was understood. In considering the broad dimensions of porous bodies, and the many reasons these ideas changed, this conference investigates boundaries between nature and culture, animal and artifice, human and other.

Keynote speakers: Thomas W. Laqueur & Anita Guerrini

We invite proposals for papers or panels addressing all aspects of The Porous Body, including, but not limited to:
– Skin as a surface – porousness, hair, nails, leather, shells, fur, complexion
– Skin as a net – excretion, accretion, incretion
– Treating skin – bleeding, lancing, leeching, cosmetics, skin diseases
– Using skin – leather, fur, dress, craft
– Thinking skin – metaphors and analogies, gender, beauty, subjectivity, senses and sensation, complexion, purity, cultural contact and sociability
– Living with skin – skin diseases, skin variations, animal skin, human skin

Proposals for 20-minute papers should be sent to Hannah Murphy and Evelyn Welch at renaissanceskin@kcl.ac.uk by 30 May 2017. Selected participants may be invited to submit essays to a conference volume planned for 2018.

This conference is organized as part of the Renaissance Skin project (@RenSkinKCL), funded by the Wellcome Trust.


Albert Tucker, Antipodean Head II, 1959 (Art Gallery of New South Wales. © AGNSW). A very porous skin portrait influenced by the Australian landscape and the “wounds and gashes and suppurating sores” of Medieval and Renaissance Italian art Tucker saw on his post-war European trip. We have discussed Albert Tucker’s faces previously on the blog.

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CFP: Disability Studies and the Classical Body

Effaced followers may be interested in the following call for papers, which proposes a fascinating conference on disability and the ‘classical’ body. We are excited to see one of our own collaborators, Jane Draycott, a confirmed speaker.



An interdisciplinary conference to be held at Kings College London, 18th–19th June 2018


Ellen Adams (Lecturer in Classical Art and Archaeology, Kings College London)

Emma-Jayne Graham (Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, The Open University)

The influence of the classical bodily ideal on Western notions of beauty has been vast. But what of the broken body, as so many classical marble sculptures have become? While philosophical explorations of the body and the senses may reference the ancient world as a starting point, there is generally little engagement with the sensory body that is impaired or progressively failing. If we are interested in the body, past or present, experienced or represented, we must look to what happens when it ‘breaks’ – the challenges posed and met, the hurdles overcome or un-surmounted, and the remarkable strategies adopted to mitigate any disabling effects of physical and sensory impairments – by both individuals and their societies.  Studying the disabled in the ancient past has yet to engage with Disability Studies in a way comparable with other areas of identity politics, such as gender, sexuality and race. Classics, and its cognate disciplines, has nevertheless played a role in shaping the modern concepts of impairment and disability that form the basis of contemporary Disability Studies, and this relationship deserves further exploration.

This conference seeks to explore shared ground by examining what modern debates concerning impairments and disabilities can add to our understanding of ancient bodies and identities. It will question why ‘non-normative’ bodies are so rarely brought into the mix by classicists, historians and archaeologists studying ancient social and cultural contexts, and how doing so can offer suggestive new ways of understanding the complex relationship between bodies, identities and divergent experiences of the world.

We invite papers which explore these issues from the standpoint of both Classical Studies and Disability Studies (of all periods). Plenty of time will be dedicated to discussion and, where possible, the organisers hope to ‘pair up’ speakers from different disciplinary backgrounds in order to encourage greater reflection on the synergies and differences of each approach. Free-standing papers will also be welcomed. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

– The ableism inherent in the Humanities

– Reference to the classical world and ancient thinkers in Disability Studies

– ‘Fixing’ impairments (including aids)

– The tension between ‘disabled’ and ‘unable’

– The terminology of disabilities

– Moving beyond etic objectification to the emic voice of the (impaired) person

– The application of social, medical and interactional models to the classical world

– Other approaches to treating disabilities (e.g. ritual)

– The phenomenology of impairment, including movement and kinaesthesia

– Sensory impairment and embodied experience

– The disabled ‘beautiful body’ and the beautiful disabled body

– Experiences of and attitudes towards progressive disabilities and sensory impairments.

Confirmed speakers include: Patty Baker, Eleanor Betts, Lennard Davis, Jane Draycott, Edith Hall, Brian Hurwitz, Helen King, Christian Laes, Michiel Meeusen, Georgia Petridou, Tom Shakespeare, Michael Squire, Hannah Thompson.

Papers should be 20 minutes in length and abstracts of approximately 200-300 words should be submitted to either Ellen Adams (Ellen.Adams@kcl.ac.uk) or Emma-Jayne Graham (Emma-jayne.graham@open.ac.uk) by 31st July 2017. Successful contributions may be considered for publication in a conference volume. Funding may be available to support travel and accommodation for speakers where necessary.

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Effaced in ‘The Conversation’

Effaced followers will be interested to read Trish Skinner’s article published today in The Conversation: ‘Makeup isn’t a ‘lie’ for people living with facial disfigurements‘.

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