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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

VICTOR Roger Shattuck, The Forbidden Experiment (Secker) £6.95

The story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron should be of intense interest to anyone concerned with the education of the handicapped or retarded. Having been in some sort at the receiving end of it myself (five years at a deaf school) I was fascinated by Professor Shattuck's lucid and enthralling account of Dr Itard's attempt to educate the twelve-year-old child caught in southern France at the beginning of the last century. A naked, languageless outcast, more animal than human, he had somehow survived in the woods for years, entirely isolated from human contact.

Here was a home-grown Noble Savage, a tabula rasa that might prove the rightness of the Romantic tenet formulated by Rousseau: that man in the state of nature, uncorrupted by society, is intrinsically good. For a brief while the Wild Boy became the cynosure of Europe (Romanticism was at its zenith) and in particular of its savants and philosophes. He was whipped off to Paris and placed in the care of the Abbe Sicard, the disciple and successor of the famous Abbé de l'épée, one of the great pioneers of the education of the deaf, and inventor of the sign-language still in use. But the Wild Boy, though mute, was not deaf. He was an animal, and ate and defecated like one, as and when he felt occasion. As with so many early teachers of the deaf, Sicard was wary of taking on a hopeless case. He pronounced the boy an idiot, and ...


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