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on 13 August 2001
A classic tale of life in Victorian England, where deformed people such as Joseph Merrick were cast aside. This is the heartbreaking true story behind the film, which inspired so many of us to re-evaluate our own imperfections.
Joseph Carey Merrick was born in Leicester, into Victorian standards that did not and could not tolerate the astounding abnormalities of his features. Cast aside by his father after his mother died, and Joseph's new stepmother (who could no longer accept him), he reluctantly and eventually ended up becoming the main attraction at the local fairs. He would show all his corrupting flesh for those who paid the entrance fee, listening to the gasps of horror from the audience, witnessing the women fainting from the horrendous sight before them. In time, Joseph would be saved from this degrading humiliation by an eminent doctor, who later came to realise that beneath the corrupting foul smelling flesh of Joseph Merrick's body lay a most humane person. For Joseph loved to read, enjoyed the theatre, had a thirst for knowledge, and above all asked for nothing more than to be accepted for a human being with feelings and emotions.
It is true to say that it would be hard for most people in today's society not to turn away from such a sight as Joseph, ambling along the street, covered from head to foot by cape and mask, unable to communicate effectively because the disease has made it virtually impossible for him to talk. But today's society has a greater understanding of the tragic "freaks of nature" as they were known, and this is what makes this true story so heartbreaking to try and understand today.
Joseph Merrick never asked for anything in his entire life, only maybe enough time for people to realise that underneath his gut wrenching exterior appearance, there lived a decent human being.
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on 14 August 2007
Before reading this book I had very little knowledge of Joseph Merrick - only the general rumours that almost everyone in the Western World seems to have heard, and what I had assumed.

This book shows everything about Merrick from the loneliness that he felt, his love for the people around him, his spirit and compassion. It also shows his true feelings about being an exhibit in a freak show. What I found great about this book in particular is the detail that is spent focusing on the other people in Merrick's life (like Treves and Tom Norman). I found that to be one of the biggest bonuses of this book.

It is informative and heart breaking, and I for one couldn't put it down -it really is a masterpiece.
Plus the writings of both Treves and Merrick included at the end were a fantastic addition that made my experience even better than I had hoped for.

Having read this book I feel that I know so much about Merrick. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone and everyone who has even the slightest interest in Joseph Merrick!
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on 27 April 2015
Really enjoyed reading this book. Lots of information about Joseph Merrick's life. Sad story about an amazing individual. Would recommend this book!
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on 1 May 2013
The story starts with `John' Merrick working in a so-called sideshow fair (which is actually a euphemism for public freak show) and his subsequent meeting with Dr Treves - whom he later befriends and who turns out to be an integral part in Merrick's life.

The narrative looks back on his early life in Leicester. It traces his life in a workhouse and that into a life of `showbiz'. Throughout, one gets a flavour of the changing tide of public morals in Victorian England. In any event, following the closures of sideshows in England and a reprehensible manager who leaves him for dead in Belgium, the story picks up with his struggle to return to London and his torment as he followed by groups of people in the streets.

What follows is a series of pitfalls for the young Merrick and with an indomitable spirit, coupled with some good fortune, he eventually lands back on the doorstep of Dr Treves and so another chapter begins. Indeed, the book for me is as much about Dr Treves as it is about Joseph Merrick.

The latter part of the book focuses more on the medical aspects of his life and how the type of care he was receiving.

I found this book to be an interesting read in that it debunks some myths and confirms others. It also shows just what a humane, soft, intelligent and inspiring figure that was Joseph Merrick.
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on 5 February 2010
Joseph Merrick's life was terrible. It seems that modern day people disparage the Victorian era for not understanding his condition and gawking at him. While it's true that he was in the freakshows because he had no other choice, I would argue that the Victorians treated him far better than they could have, and that today, even with our superior knowledge of medicine, we would gawp no less. His life was wretched, but it could have been far worse were it not for the kindness of others.

Joseph Merrick was born in Victorian England perfectly normal, but as he grew his deformities grew more apparent and more severe. He was driven from his home by a shrewish stepmother, driven from his uncle's home by a shrewish aunt, and then forced to barely survive in a workhouse. He could have chosen to languish in the workhouse, but he chose instead of join the circus and become an attraction in the freakshow. While having people flinch in horror at the sight of him must have been awful mentally, physically and financially he was far more secure.

Unfortunately, while travelling around mainland Europe, his manager stole his not inconsiderable savings and he was left to limp home to England, where he threw himself upon the mercy of a doctor who had examined him earlier, a Dr. Frederick Treves. And after this, after suffering so much pain, he was able to live the rest of his life in relative comfort thanks to the charity of the Victorian elite.

He had a room in the hospital, the best care he could be given, and he was in time visited by various members of the nobility and even the royalty. For Joseph Merrick by all accounts was as lovely on the inside as he was hideous on the outside. He read, he assembled models of buildings with his one good hand, and he dreamed. It's such a shame that he had to suffer such physical deformities during his life.

This book is well-researched and it is apparent that the authors had respect for both Merrick and Treves. The appendixes at the end are also very fascinating, with a brief autobiography by Merrick himself and an account of Merrick written by Treves. The Elephant Man is an uplifting story about the human spirit and humans will always find the story of Joseph Merrick heartbreaking and inspiring.
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on 25 January 2012
This book touched my heart. Very few have done that, one other being Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Victorian England was a harsh place. Reminds me of modern day Rio De Janeiro or someplace similar. Merrick had an uphill struggle to carve out a place for himself of peace and quiet in this world. And he did it.

I was most impressed with Merrick's irrepressible spirit, his child-like optimism, the way he never seemed to bare grudges and his love of beauty, friendship and all that is good in the world. it seems to be proven true again in the life of Merrick that pain and suffering have a way of preserving and healing the soul. This would be the view of the Orthodox Church. Creative Suffering and the Wounded Healer: Analytical Psychology and Orthodox Christian Theology.

I was very impressed with the fact that Merrick towards the end of his life sought to return to his Creator. He sought out the Anglican Hospital chaplain, was catechized, baptized and received into the Anglican church, of which he remained a faithful member until his death.

The style of the book may be a little dated and not quite as P.C. as we would like with our 21st century ideologies, but it will not fail to move you I'm sure, as it did me.

BTW: please read the book before you watch the movie if you can. the book is much better and truer to the facts.
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on 20 May 2016
A superb book that brings the tragic story of Joseph Merrick to life. By the end you feel you've walked a little in the shoes of this astonishing man - from the hardship of his formative years to a sort of viable accommodation as a live freakshow exhibit (which, bad as it was, was better for him than the poorhouse) to his nadir when he was left destitute in Belgium to his final sanctuary in the London Hospital. The desperate sadness and struggle of the first part of his life contrasts strongly with the final years of his life when he became something of a celebrity, and thanks to the help of many people was able to experience some of the normalities of life we all take forgranted.The description of his holiday in the country brings a tear to the eye. Of course, his awful condition never diminishes and is ever present. You never forget the incredible struggle he faces in simply living - whether that is talking, walking, even sleeping.

The book, importantly, sets the context by fleshing out the character of the people who played a significant role in Merrick's life as well as describing the environment in which he lived. There are also some interesting appendices containing much earlier writings on the man.

Thoroughly recommend.
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on 20 April 2016
For me, this is the definitive account of the man that we call 'The Elephant Man' - Mr Joseph Merrick. With every passing year, the Victorian world he inhabited becomes a little more distant, but in our world where just having no mobile signal can be a 'disaster', the story of a man who really had something to gripe about - and didn't - resonates with us all. He would have passed by now even if he had lived to a ripe old age, but the book tells us that in his final years he fell into the arms of those best positioned to offer him that what is almost impossible provide to one so afflicted - a sense of normality. I now see Joseph as a man strolling - if not in a slightly laboured fashion - along the edges of fields in rural Northamptonshire, taking in the flora and fauna and perhaps for the first time in his life forgetting the dark days and having things to look forward to.
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on 27 February 2012
The elephant man, a grotesque body camouflaging a fine character, is one of the oddist medical stories. This account is movingly written and well illustrated, and provides a harrowing depiction of human suffering, and endurance.
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on 30 August 2007
I read this book as the story of the Elephant Man, Joseph Carey Merrick, has fascinated and terrified me since I was a child. What I read left me horrified and deeply touched. Beneath the horrifying exterior that blighted his life, Merrick was a true gentleman, with an extroadinarily childlike view of the world that so shunned him, who simply wished to be accepted and loved. Ironic then, that his 'saviour' Mr Treves, honourable as his intentions may have been, continued to 'show off' Merrick, making himself almost as bad as the Freak Show hosts of Merricks previous life.

This book is fantastic. Very tastefully written, and gives a great deal of insight to the man behind the legend. Read this and you will laugh, cry and shake with disgust at the atrocities that befell Merrick, and will forever hold the man in the highest regard for his strength of character and his almost unwavering spirit.

Not for the faint hearted, however, as there are graphic photo's of Merrick throughout his time at the London Hospital.
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