Sep 28, 2008

The Wild Boy of Aveyron

by Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard
translated by George Humphry

In the late 1700's, a young boy was seen running naked in the forest near a French village. He was captured and given into the care of a widow, then escaped and survived the winter alone in the forest before being caught a second time. The villagers reported having seen a naked child in the woods some five years earlier, so many of them believed the boy had been living in the wild all that time. Some physicians from Paris examined him and decided he was not really a feral child, but simply mentally handicapped. Itard, a young medical doctor, undertook to "civilize" Victor and educate him. The Wild Boy of Aveyron is Itard's firsthand account of his attempts. It details all the painstaking methods Itard invented to try and help Victor. Most of it appears to have failed- Victor never learned to speak more than a few words, and even as an adult still behaved in many ways more like an animal than a human being. Yet Itard's work was a breakthrough in terms of how mentally handicapped children were treated, and some of his work became (as far as I understand) the foundation of modern sign language.

At the time of his discovery, people were fascinated by Victor because they thought by studying his case they could determine what divided humans from animals- what aspects were learned human behavior, or innate human nature. In the wake of The Wild Boy of Aveyron came many publications studying accounts of feral children thought to have been raised by wolves or other wild animals. The subject fascinated me, and I read half a dozen of them in 2004 (all to be featured here eventually).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 102 pages, 1894

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  1. I saw the French movie (by Truffaut?) about this boy. Wow.

  2. I read a fiction book a couple of months ago called Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah. A modern day wolf girl. It was actually good. They mention this book in it.

  3. This book sounds fascinating, thanks for the review! I will look out for it.

  4. Interesting! Have you come across any modern day books on the subject in general? I might want an overview of the subject from a modern perspective before going to primary sources.

  5. Some more books are:

    Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature by Lucien Malson, 1964

    The Wolf Children by Charles Maclean, 1977

    Victor by Mordecai Gerstein, 1998

    Children of the Wolf by Jane Yolen, 1984. This one is juvenile fic, and although told from a fictional character's viewpoint, has lots of accurate details.

    In a similar vein, there's also Lost Prince: The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, by Jeffry Moussaieff Masson, 1996- about a boy who was discovered in 1828 after having been locked in a dungeon with no human contact from ages 4-16.

    Those are all the titles I read on the subject, that I can currently remember.

  6. Anonymous9/29/2008

    This post reminds me of a article i read not to long ago about a little girl who was neglected in her own home. Locked in the closet, she couldn't walk, speak, or any type of communication. I love Jane Yolen, I'd be interested to read Children of the Wolf.

  7. Jeane,
    Have you read Genie by Russ Raymer? I think Natasha referred to it in her comment above. Heartbreaking.

  8. Anonymous10/02/2008

    never ever heard of this case!
    Sounds so interesting, but also sad. Obviously someone left that boy there to fend for himself. People are so cruel. :P


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