Charles William Esam-Carter: Illness, Health and Disability – Writing Lives

Charles William Esam-Carter: Illness, Health and Disability

There is an element of foreshadowing to the birth of Charles’ sister, Muriel that is, in some respects, sinister. He recalls overhearing his father speaking with the doctor in the garden, unaware that the small boy was hiding under an apple tree. He heard his father tell the doctor ‘You are asking me to consent to the murder of my own child.’ (60) From this the doctor had no response. His father ‘uttered a strangled sort of cry and went back to the house. It was a terrible cry; it made me want to run away as far as I could…’ (61)

At this moment, Charles had no understanding that his little sister had been born. However, he had sensed that something terrible had happened from his fathers behaviour, having been very formal with his son. He tells us, ‘all this formality led to the announcement that my father found embarrassing.’ (68) His father would not commit the sin of allowing anything happen to his daughter, yet from the moment she was born it is evident that she was viewed as a burden on the family.

Before being brought to meet his sister for the first time, Charles’ father ‘appeared to be distressed. His voice was shaky when he explained that the doctor had brought my sister yesterday.’ (68) He was obviously unaware that his young son had overheard the difficult conversation he was having with the doctor.

What Charles’ mother would have looked like after giving birth.

Upon seeing his sister for the very first time, Charles can recall exactly what she looked like, her face was ‘puffy-coloured and hideous’ (68) not exactly the response which would be expected. Both of his parents were watching his reactions intently. When asked what he thought of her, he responded with ‘she is a little bit ugly.’ (68) His mother made light of this, as we all know, children can be brutally honest.

After the birth of his sister, he spends a lot of time talking about other things ongoing in his life. His father started spending a lot more time outside of the house again, opting to leave Charles at home. Unfortunately, some pages of the notes Charles has made make it difficult to read, however, he notes ‘I hardly saw my mother, who was occupied all the time with Muriel, Clara seemed to draw away from me.’ (70) Not long after this Clara moved on from the family to work elsewhere, leaving Charles without anyone to talk to. His mother’s time had now been delegated solely to his sister, who obviously required a lot of attention. Another wave of loneliness for a small boy to experience with no real understanding as to what was going on.

A institution where deaf and mute children, among other disabled children would be sent to live, often being abused in terrible conditions.

It is only toward the end of his biography that Charles reveals the disability of his sister that seemed to cause the family so much heartache. She was deaf and mute, a seemingly common disability in our modern days society and one that does not cause disgrace a family by any means. It’s astonishing to think that a doctor recommended the baby be killed simply be


Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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