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“Why do you sing so loud, aunty,” – Annie Webb-Peploe’s story, Deaf and Dumb

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 October 2016

Arthur“Why do you sing so loud, aunty,” said Jessie; “I like to hear you sing softly.”

“I want baby to listen to me,” replied her aunt hastily, and she continued her song even louder than before.

“Stupid little Arthur,” said Jessie.

“Poor little Arthur,” said Aunt Amy, with a heavy sigh.

(Deaf and Dumb)

Annie Molyneux, a prolific, if more or less forgotten Victorian author, was born on the 24th of February 1806 (not 1805 as so many bibliographical details say), daughter to John Molyneux (one of a remarkable fifteen children), and a descendant of Thomas Molyneux, who was born in Calais when it was still English.  Thomas settled in Ireland and the family entered politics, with some of his descendants and Annie’s ancestors becoming Irish MPs.  Annie married John Birch Webb, who became the vicar of Weobley in Herefordshire.  In 1866 he took the surname Peploe, so they became the Webb-Peploe’s.  Annie Webb-Peploe, or Webb in the earlier part of her life, is as I say, hardly known now, but if she is read or remembered, it is probably for the book Naomi: or, The last days of Jerusalem (1841), which is a particular genre of ‘conversion’ literature that Annie wrote a number of books on.  The main character is a Jewish woman who becomes a Christian.  It went through a considerable number of editions, including in the U.S.A., and was also translated to Danish in 1892, and German in 1900.  I did not spot any English edition quite that late, but Valman says that it continued to be published to the end of the century.  It might be interesting to draw parallels between her attitude to “the devoted and impenitent Jews” (Naomi, preface, p. v) and the Deaf people in her short story, Deaf and Dumb (uncertain date).  There is an interesting chapter in Valman’s 2009 book (see reference below), that discusses Naomi. Arthur at school

Deaf and Dumb* tells the story of a deaf boy called Arthur, and his sister Jessie who are orphaned as young children.  They live with their aunt who then sends the boy to be educated at the Exeter School.  The boy is at first educated ‘by signs’, then “when he became an intimate of the asylum it was considered time to cultivate his power of speech, which, strange as it may seem to some of our readers, is actually as perfect with those who are called deaf and dumb as with those who have spoken from infancy” (Chapter 2, page 3 – though the pages of the whole book are unnumbered).  She seems to have taken some trouble with the details of education at Exeter, but I am unclear as to what she means about ‘the art of speaking on the fingers – or dactylology’ (Chapter 2 p.6) – is she referring to sign language or fingerspelling?  The stress seems to be on becoming oral, learning to speak –

The author has heard a deaf and dumb lady read a newspaper quite intelligibly, and also converse with a mutual friend who was also deaf and dumb, and with whom she had been brought up at Braidwood’s establishment.  The tone of their voices was guttural and rather monotonous, but by no means difficult to understand.

Yes it is ‘preachy’ and in my view not terribly well written, but it is interesting.  I suspect the book dates from circa 1860-65 based on her name as it appears – Mrs Webb, and on the few details on her two fellow writers in the collection.  Our copy must I think be very rare indeed.

It is difficult to find out anything much about Annie Webb-Peploe, even though she wrote and published quite a lot over a long period.  She does not as yet appear in the ‘Orlando – Women’s Writing’ pages, unlike two of her three fellow writers who are published in the same volume, Frances Browne and Frances Mary Peard (the third being L.A. Hall).  Her three sons went into the army (Daniel), the navy (Augustus), and the church (Hanmer).  Hanmer was a member of the evangelical ‘Holiness Movement‘, and has an entry in the DNB (see below).  You can see more of her family details here.  She died in 1880.  It seems that she is ripe for some research by someone interested in Victorian literature.  I am sure there are Webb-Peploes around today who might have some family records that would add to the bare details, and a photograph perhaps.

I have saved the whole story as a pdf for those interested.  When opened, right click the file to put it the right way up.  Deaf and Dumb by Mrs Webb

Arthur and Jessie 1http://id.loc.gov/authorities/names/n84051745.html

The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture de Waard, Marco. Gender Forum 21 (2008) (Review)

Valman, Nadia, The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture, CUP 2009

Online Books by Mrs. Webb-Peploe


My Life on the Prairies

I. T. Foster, ‘Peploe, Hanmer William Webb- (1837–1923)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/47130, accessed 3 Oct 2016] – see also here.



A Deaf character in a Charles Dickens short story

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 February 2012

Charles Dickens, whose bicentenary is celebrated today, wrote a short story, Doctor Marigold, with a deaf character Sophy who is adopted by the narrator, Marigold. It is typically Dickensian in its melodramatic plot. In the short story, Marigold is a cheap-jack whose wife beats their child and then his wife kills herself. Marigold ‘adopts’ a child who has been beaten, then wins her trust and teaches her to communicate using (invented) signs. Eventually he sends her to “the Deaf and Dumb Establishment in London” where Sophy falls in love with another student. They marry and she has a hearing child.

In a recent article in English Literary History Jennifer Esmail examines the place of deaf people in Victorian fiction. She questions why, in Harriet Martineau’s words, “blindness is frequently made interesting in books; deafness seldom or never.” Martineau, who would have identified as ‘deaf ‘ rather than ‘Deaf’ says Esmail, addressed her “Letter to the Deaf” to “speaking people who experience deafness, and she was generally dismissive of the abilities of signers.”

While characters with disabilities appear frequently in Victorian fiction, deaf characters, specifically, are almost entirely absent. In fact, the only deaf characters who use sign language in Victorian fiction are Madonna Blyth in Wilkie Collins’s Hide and Seek and Sophy Marigold in Charles Dickens’s “Doctor Marigold.” Grounding its analysis in these two texts, this article contends that it is, in particular, a deaf character’s relationship to language that disqualifies him or her from conventional representation in Victorian fiction. Through reading Hide and Seek and “Doctor Marigold” in the context of Victorian deaf history, Collins and Dickens’s realist aims, and Victorian generic conventions rooted in transcribing orality, this essay argues that the absence of deaf characters reveals the investment of mid-Victorian fiction in a particular and normativized relationship between bodies, spoken language, and textuality.

While ‘normativized’ is not a word that I would ever use, the article is well worth reading.

A reading from Doctor Marigold was one of the last public appearances of Dickens in Nottingham in 1869.

Image by Jeremiah Gurney from Wikimedia Commons


Esmail, Jennifer “I listened with my eyes”: Writing speech and reading deafness in the fiction of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. ELH – English Literary History  Volume 78, Issue 4, December 2011, Pages 991-1020.

Literature Arts and Medicines Database on Doctor Marigold

Literature Arts and Medicines Database on Hide and Seek

Matineau, Harriet Principle and Practice; or The Orphan Family. 1827

These are some more Dickens connections with deafness:

1842-60  Sometime between these dates, the novelist visited the privately-run Rugby Deaf School, and presented his friend, the headmaster, Henry Brothers Bingham with a signed engraved print (according to Selwyn Oxley’s card file)

1842    Visited Perkins Institution in America and observed Laura Bridgeman and Oliver Caswell; wrote about them in American Notes (British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 1969, 4, 107-16).

1843    Spoke at the 7th Anniversary festival (23rd of May) of the Charitable and Provident Society for the Deaf and Dumb, and became a governor for life by donating £5.00 (24th Annual Report of the Society, and The Times, 1843, 24 May, 7; his speech is paraphrased in Fielding, K.J. The speeches of Charles Dickens. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960.).

1853    Speech given at Society of Arts banquet, temple Roe, Birmingham (6 Jan) mentioned visit to deaf and dumb institutions in Birmingham and praised the regulation and consideration with whicht they were run

1865    Christmas no. of All the Year Round includes Dr Marigold’s Prescriptions; Prescriptions 1, 6 and 8 (pp. 46-48 are the original version of Dr Marigold which appears in Christmas Stories.

1909    Pears’ Annual includes Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions, with illustrations.