by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 8, 1996
A valuable introduction to a timeless and fascinating mystery involving child abuse and murder. There has probably never been a child who so intrigued a continent as Kaspar Hauser. The subject of numerous books and films, this famous ""wild child"" surfaced in Nuremberg in 1828, a largely illiterate, unsocialized adolescent. He had no recollection of a family or a home. For over 12 years he had been imprisoned in a kind of cage, where he was fed only bread and water and denied all human contact. He never saw the face of his captor. Possibly the legitimate heir to the throne of Baden, he was murdered in 1832 by an unknown assailant. In an essay of about 70 pages, psychoanalyst Masson (coauthor of When Elephants Weep, 1995) combs through the available literature to differentiate apparently accurate accounts of Hauser's short life from those that are speculative and tendentious. He offers a credible if not conclusive theory about who murdered Hauser and why. The longest text in this volume is the first complete English translation (by Masson) of an account by Judge Anselm von Feuerbach, whose court had jurisdiction over the Hauser case. Also included is a translation by Masson of an autobiographical sketch by the child-man himself, who after his release apparently learned basic language skills remarkably well. Masson places Hauser's great suffering within the broader context of child abuse during the 19th and 20th centuries, which, he argues, was both widespread and almost universally denied. Unfortunately, he also digresses at points and introduces questionable data. For example, Masson (for whom sexual abuse of girls was a central tenet in his controversial 1984 book The Assault on Truth) claims that ""about 38 percent of women have been sexually abused by the time they reach the age of eighteen."" But he offers no definition of ""sexually abused"" and no corroborating data. However, Masson's examination will introduce many American readers to one of the great case studies of extreme cruelty and deprivation, and of the remarkable human capacity for adaptability.
Pub Date: March 8, 1996
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996
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