THE FORBIDDEN EXPERIMENT: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron by Roger Shattuck

THE FORBIDDEN EXPERIMENT: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Who was the wild boy of Aveyron: an abandoned imbecile or disturbed child? a regressed mute? a functional retardate? And why, after nine months of apparent progress, did his responsiveness to tutoring diminish abruptly: flaws in the program? the onset of puberty? Shattuck's interesting probe of the French boy's plight, from his January 1800 capture onward, is a thorough exploration of the available data, a clear-headed investigation which draws on contemporary records and recent versions of the case (Harlan Lane's The Wild Boy of Aveyron, 1976; Truffaut's film ""The Wild Child"") and adds new insights of its own. At the time of his capture--the first month of the century--""Victor"" attracted the attention of doctors and philosophers; sent to the newly respectable Institute for Deaf-Mutes, he was judged hopeless by Pinel and Sicard, more promising by a young doctor, Jean-Marc Itard. Funded by the government, Itard undertook his transformation, but despite some encouraging early signs, Victor remained a social isolate, unable to speak or respond in ""human"" ways. Shattuck seeks to discover why Victor's socialization stopped so far short of Itard's goals, and demonstrates how contemporary theories and the young doctor's sense of propriety may have sabotaged his efforts. (Shattuck also gives deserved credit to the housekeeper who stuck by the boy.) After five years, Itard dropped Victor and went on to major career success, later influencing the work of Seguin and Montessori as well as today's special education practices. Victor died in 1828, his last years, like his earliest, unrecorded. Shattuck--who developed this book from a series of high school lectures and seminars on the Truffaut film--has carefully reconstructed the events, fleshed out the background scene, and corrected a few of Lane's facts, producing a shorter, more accessible book than Lane's without sacrificing plausibility or circumspection.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux