Victor of Aveyron: Wikis


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Victor of Aveyron
Oval head and shoulders side portrait of a boy without clothes. He has a medium length hair cut long at the neck, a receding chin, and gazes calmly ahead.
Victor's portrait from the front cover of the book about him.
Born approximately 1785
Died 1828
Paris, France
Nationality unknown
Other names The Wild Boy of Aveyron
Known for being a feral child

Victor of Aveyron (also The Wild Boy of Aveyron) was a feral child who apparently lived his entire childhood naked and alone in the woods before being found wandering the woods near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France, in 1797. He was captured, but soon escaped, after being displayed in the town. He was additionally periodically spotted in 1798 and 1799.

However, on January 8, 1800, he emerged from the forests on his own. His age was unknown but citizens of the village estimated that he was about twelve years old. His lack of speech, as well as his food preferences and the numerous scars on his body, indicated that he had been in the wild for the majority of his life. While the townspeople received him kindly, it was only a matter of time before word spread and the boy was quickly taken for examination and documentation.



Shortly after Victor was found, a local abbot and biology professor, Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre, examined him. He removed the boy's clothing and led him outside into the snow, where, far from being upset, Victor began to frolic about in the nude, showing Bonnaterre that he was clearly accustomed to exposure and cold. The local government commissioner, Constans-Saint-Esteve, also observed the boy and wrote that there was "something extraordinary in his behavior, which makes him seem close to the state of wild animals".[1] The boy was eventually taken to Rodez, where two men, in fact, traveled to discover whether or not he was their missing child. Both men had lost their sons during the French Revolution, but neither claimed the boy as their son; whether it was because of his wild appearance or inability to speak is unknown. There were other rumors regarding the boy's origins. For example, one rumor insisted that the boy was the illegitimate son of a notaire abandoned at a young age because he was mute [2]. Itard believed that Victor had "lived in an absolute solitude from his fourth or fifth almost to his twelfth year, which is the age he may have been when he was taken in the Caune woods". That means he presumably lived for seven years in the wilderness.[3]

It was clear that Victor could hear, but he was taken to the National Institute of the Deaf in Paris for the purpose of being studied by the renowned Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard. Sicard and other members of the Society of Observers of Man believed that by studying, as well as educating the boy, they would gain the proof they needed for the recently popularized empiricist theory of knowledge.[4] In the context of the Enlightenment, when many were debating what exactly distinguished man from animal, one of the most significant factors was the ability to learn language. By studying the boy, they would also be able to explain the relationship between man and society.


Influence of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment caused many thinkers, including naturalists and philosophers, to believe that human nature was a subject that needed to be redefined and looked at from a completely different angle. Because of the French Revolution and new developments in science and philosophy, man was looked at as not special, but as characteristic of his place in nature.[5] It was hoped that by studying the wild boy, this idea would gain support. He became a case study in the Enlightenment debate about the differences between humans and animals.

At that time, the scientific category Juvenis averionensis was used, as a special case of the Homo Ferus,[6] described by Carl von Linné in Systema Naturae. Linnaeus and his discoveries, then, forced people to ask the question, what makes us men? Another developing idea that was prevalent during the Enlightenment was Rousseau's idea of the noble savage. Rousseau believed that a man, existing in the pure state of nature would be "gentle, innocent, a lover of solitude, ignorant of evil and incapable of causing intentional harm." [7]

Philosophies proposed by the likes of Rousseau, Locke, and Descartes were evolving around the time when the boy was discovered in France in 1800. These advances in philosophy invariably had an influence on how the boy was looked at, and eventually, how his education would be constructed by Itard.

Influence of Colonialism

Simpson points out that there was a "direct link between the discourse of colonialism abroad and internal regulation of deviants back home." [8] The same way in which Europeans viewed the "Other" in colonies and other exotic locations was how the French people saw the Wild Boy of Aveyron. To lack reason and understanding during the Enlightenment was to be uncivilized. The attitudes which Europeans extended toward the Other was paralleled by Victor, as he too was considered "uncivilized" because of his lack of language and therefore, reason. These characteristics defined mankind for Victor's contemporaries.


After Sicard became frustrated with the lack of progress made by the boy, he was left to roam the institution by himself, until Itard decided to take the boy into his home in order to keep reports and monitor his development. However, it was said that even though he had been exposed to society and education, he had made little progress at the Institution under Sicard. Many people questioned his ability to learn because of his initial state, and as Yousef explains, "it is one thing to say that the man of nature is not yet fully human; it is quite another thing to say that the man of nature cannot become fully human." [9]

Jean Marc Gaspard Itard

Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, a young medical student, effectively adopted Victor into his home and published reports on his progress. Itard believed that two things separated humans from animals: empathy and language. He wanted to civilize Victor with the objectives of teaching him to speak and to communicate human emotion. Victor showed significant early progress in understanding language and reading simple words but failed to progress beyond a rudimentary level. Itard wrote "Under these circumstances his ear was not an organ for the appreciation of sounds, their articulations and their combinations; it was nothing but a simple means of self-preservation which warned of the approach of a dangerous animal or the fall of wild fruit." [10]

The only two phrases that Victor ever actually learned to spell out were lait (milk) and Oh, Dieu (Oh, God).[11] It would seem, however, that Itard implemented more contemporary views when he was educating Victor. Rousseau appears to have believed "that natural association is based on reciprocally free and equal respect between people." [12] This notion of how to educate and to teach was something that although did not produce the effects hoped for, did prove to be a step towards new systems of pedagogy. By attempting to learn about the boy who lived in nature, education could be restructured and characterized.

Itard has been recognized as the founder of "oral education of the deaf; the field of otolaryngology; the use of behavior modification with severely impaired children; and special education for the mentally and physically handicapped." [13]

While Victor did not learn to speak the language that Itard tried to teach him, it seems that Victor did make progress in his behavior towards other people. At the Itard home, housekeeper Madame Guérin was setting the table one evening while crying over the loss of her husband. Victor stopped what he was doing and displayed consoling behavior towards her. Itard reported on this progress.

Victor died in Paris in 1828 in the home of Madame Guérin.


Victor's life was dramatized in François Truffaut's 1970 film l'Enfant Sauvage (marketed in the UK as The Wild Boy and in the US as The Wild Child).

Victor's story was also dramatized through puppetry in an ensemble theater performance also called The Wild Child by Hand2Mouth Theatre in 2004.[14]

Recent commentary

Professor Uta Frith has stated that she believes Victor displayed the signs of autism.[15][16]

In March 2008, following the disclosure that the Misha Defonseca best-selling book, later turned into film, Survivre Avec les Loups (Survival with Wolves) was a fake, there was an important debate in the French media (newspapers, radio and even on television) concerning the numerous false cases of feral children blindly accredited: although there are numerous books on this subject, almost none of them have been based on archives, the authors using rather dubious second or third-hand printed information. According to French surgeon Serge Aroles, who has written a general study of feral children based on archives,[17] almost all of these cases are fakes. According to Aroles,[18] Victor of Aveyron is not a genuine feral child; "Don't forget that Truffaut's movie is ... a movie !" According to Aroles, the scars on the body of Victor were not the consequences of a wild life in the forests, but rather of physical abuse (a fact the film alludes to with at least one scar).


  1. ^ Lane,Harlan. (1976):The Wild Boy of Aveyron, Cambridge: Harvard UP, p.9.
  2. ^ Lane,Harlan. (1976): The Wild Boy of Aveyron, Cambridge: Harvard UP, p. 17.
  3. ^ Itard, Jean-Marc-Gaspard. (1962): The Wild Boy of Aveyron, New York: Meredith Company, p. 10.
  4. ^ Lane,Harlan. (1976): The Wild Boy of Aveyron, Cambridge: Harvard UP, p. 5.
  5. ^ Shattuck, Roger. (1980): The Forbidden Experiment, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, p. 42.
  6. ^ Dr. E. C. Séguin: Idiocy: And its treatment by the physiological method, 1907.
  7. ^ Benzaquen, Adriana S. (2006): Encounters with Wild Children: Temptation and Disappointment in the Study of Human Nature, Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, p. 163.
  8. ^ Simpson, Murray K. (2007): From Savage to Citizen: Education, Colonialism, and Idiocy,British Journal of Sociology of Education 28.5, p. 571.
  9. ^ Yousef, Nancy. (2001): Savage or Solitary?: the Wild Child and Rousseau's Man of NatureJournal of the History of Ideas 62.2.
  10. ^ Itard, Jean-Marc-Gaspard. (1962): The Wild Boy of Aveyron, New York: Meredith Company, p. 26.
  11. ^ Ingalls, Robert P. (1978): Mental retardation: the changing outlook, p. 86.
  12. ^ Winch, Christopher. (1996): Rousseau on Learning: a Re-evaluation Educational Theory 46.4.
  13. ^ Carrey, Normand J. (1995): Itard's 1828 Memoir on "Mutism Caused by a Lesion of the Intellectual Functions": a Historical Analysis Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 34.12.
  14. ^
  15. ^ BBC Radio 4. Case Study BBC - Radio 4 - Daily Schedule "The Wild Boy of Aveyron Claudia Hammond presents" 2008-11-30 23:40 UTC
  16. ^ Jill Dawson. "Interview in The Big Issue on Wild Boy". Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  17. ^ Aroles, Serge (2007):L'énigme des enfants-loups (The enigma of wolf-children)
  18. ^ Aroles, Serge (2007):chapter XXXI

Further reading

External links


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