Content warning: ableist language and eating disorder
I really enjoyed Hearing Maud by Jessica White. It’s an important work of creative fiction – combining a memoir about Jessica’s life, and an insight into Maud Praed, the deaf daughter of 19th century Queensland expatriate novelist Rosa Praed.
Jessica lost her hearing aged four, and as detailed in the book, she considers herself to be raised as hearing. Her parents sent her to a mainstream school and sent her to audiologists and speech pathologists to help her hear and speak. She didn’t know any D/deaf people as a child, and hadn’t learnt sign language. She wasn’t raised culturally Deaf, which I believe is why she’s used the smaller d variation of deaf.
Jessica has had a prolific and successful writing career, and has also worked in academia, but she struggled with forming relationships due to communication barriers. She also experienced an eating disorder.
Jessica details the discrimination that both she and Maud endured. Maud was taught to speak, not sign, and as a result, found communicating very difficult.
Through her research, Jessica saw parallels between herself and Maud – especially the discrimination they both endured and isolation they felt. While there were centuries between them, some of the discriminatory views about disability have not changed.
At times there was some uncomfortable disability hierarchy. While some of it was tied to history (stating that “in Roman law, deaf people were placed in the same category as imbeciles”, but she was also othering, with a statement about being “deaf not stupid”.
There was also a little ableist language and allusion to eugenics, when Jessica wrote about deaf history, and the discrimination she and Maud experienced. I feel this use of ableist language is passable as it is describing how the language was discriminatory. Jessica is disabled herself, so she she has the power when writing about ableism (compared to a non disabled writer using disability slurs).
I related a lot to Jessica’s story – especially her working harder than what’s often healthy to prove myself to non disabled people; her dating woes and desire to be loved unreservedly, and also the way her parents sent her to a mainstream school with few accommodations. I also related to the way writing has changed Jessica’s life.
There were a few lessons in the importance of complaining about lack of accessibility. One line that stood out to me was “I’m inclined not to bother with complaining because it takes energy, but once an audiologist in London told me, ‘If you complain, you make it easier for the next deaf person who comes after you.’”
One of the loveliest parts of the book was when Jessica reflected on all the friends she had when they came to her second book’s launch, compared to three years prior. Writing has given her so many opportunities and relationships. Hearing Maud is a story of how the written word can lead to self discovery, and also the importance of connection with others – especially other disabled and D/deaf people.
I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the narrator. As Jessica wrote so much about her speech, and because this is a memoir, I would loved to have heard her narrate it.
You can buy Hearing Maud here. It comes in paperback, ebook and audiobook. Hearing Maud has been shortlisted for the 2020 National Biography Award, shortlisted for the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards People’s Choice Award and shortlisted for the 2020 Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance.
My friend Tash and I are doing #DisabilityReads on Instagram, where each month we read a book by a disabled or Deaf writer, and review the books and create discussion on our Instagram accounts. Join in via @Jouljet and @Carlyfindlay.
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