Savage Girls and Wild Boys A History of Feral Children

Michael Newton




Trade Paperback

312 Pages


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Savage Girls and Wild Boys is a fascinating history of extraordinary children—brought up by animals, raised in the wilderness, or locked up for long years in solitary confinement.

Wild or feral children have fascinated us through the centuries, and continue to do so today. In this study, Michael Newton investigates a number of infamous cases. He looks at Peter the Wild Boy, who gripped the attention of Swift and Defoe, and Victor of Aveyron, who roamed wild in the forests of revolutionary France. He tells the story of a savage girl lost in the streets of Paris, of two children brought up by wolves in the jungles of India, and of a Los Angeles girl, who emerged from thirteen years locked up in a room to international celebrity. He describes, too, a boy brought up among monkeys in Uganda; and in Moscow, the child found living with a pack of wild dogs.

Savage Girls and Wild Boys examines the lives of these children and of the adults who "rescued" them, looked after them, educated, or abused them. How can we explain the mixture of disgust and envy that such children can provoke? And what can they teach us about our notions of education, civilization, and man's true nature?


Praise for Savage Girls and Wild Boys

"Newton is a supple, intelligent writer."—Laura Miller,

"Extraordinary . . . [shows] great courage."—Rocky Mountain News (Denver)

"Newton's thoughtful and crisply written book . . . tells [the stories] confidently, clearly, and with great humanity."—Richard Davenport-Hines, author of The Pursuit of Oblivion and Gothic

"A fascinating, truly thought-provoking book, written with passionate intelligence."—Melissa Murray, author of Changelings

"These stories, which Michael Newton has collected and analyzed, are parables about what it means to be human, and they demonstrate how flimsy our definition of ourselves as superior creatures actually is."—Peter Conrad, author of The Hitchcock Murders

"A collection of six extraordinary individual histories, beautifully navigated."—Evening Standard (London)

"Newton's absorbing study of a rich subject, of which he shows a keen and sensitive understanding."—The Sunday Times (London)

"This is a richly referenced compilation."—Library Journal

"Newton finds that the troubling lives of these feral outsiders challenge our most closely held notions about human nature and society. As he recounts the astonishing histories . . . Newton also insightfully portrays those who studied and worked with them, carefully deciphering their beliefs and motives. Ultimately, Newton concludes his unique and deeply compassionate study with
af0 a discerning meditation on the crucial questions 'wild' children raise about nature, nurture, and civilization."—Booklist

"As a child, literature professor Michael Newton was captivated by Tarzan movies and Kipling's The Jungle Book. It's only fitting, then, that his first book, Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children, would investigate the history of children raised by (among others) wolves, monkeys and wild dogs. If these children help us understand 'our continuing relationship with the savage image of ourselves' they also serve as a useful mirror of society's ills. As Newton argues, the medical treatments, therapeutic interventions, and general media hoopla following the discoveries of these children sharply reveal the intellectual and political fixations of their particular historical milieu from Victor, the 'Wild Child of Aveyron,' in 1800, onward. As interesting as such stories are in themselves, however, Newton's real strength lies in his ability to recognize how these children, seemingly helpless yet astonishingly self-contained, inevitably awaken our rescue fantasies and parental longings. Newton is a consummate storyteller, and this richly detailed study will work just as well outside of academe as within it."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Michael Newton has taught at University College London and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. This is his first book. He currently teaches at Princeton University. He divides his time between London and Princeton, New Jersey.
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  • Michael Newton

  • Michael Newton has taught at University College London and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. This is his first book. He currently teaches at Princeton University.
  • Michael Newton