Dickens was one of the first writers to present a central character with an intellectual disability—the eponymous hero of Barnaby Rudge, who bears several symptoms of autism, a syndrome not yet diagnosed in the nineteenth century. This article examines the influence of the Romantic cult of the child on Dickens's articulation of disability as associated with early stages of development. The placing of the linguistically-disabled person on the human continuum is related to the concept of logocentrism, or supremacy of language, as the defining presumption that separates human from animal. This humanist premise was maintained, in the words of Jacques Derrida, “from Aristotle to Heidegger, from Descartes to Kant, Levinas and Lacan” (2008). Exploring the representation of animal-child communication, this article regards the depiction of the talking raven in Barnaby Rudge as a revision of the Wordsworthian idyllic representation of the child and animal in nature. It argues that alongside the historical theme of the novel, and the Rioters' “beastly” violence, there are also the alternative linguistic codes of animal speech and intellectual disability that combine to raise the question of language as a defining property of the human, and its possibly changing qualities in nineteenth-century England.

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