- Paperback: 414 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226327639
- ISBN-13: 978-0226327631
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Helen Keller: A Life Paperback – December 15, 1999
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There are just too many jumps and gaps in this for my taste. I wish her editors had said, "If you're going to say _______, then you must complete the thought."
I am very much inclined to agree with one or more of the reviewers that Ms. Herrmann speculates too much at times, and disagree with Ms. Herrmann's assessment of Annie Sullivan, who I think is quite worthy of our profound admiration in her own right. But I am most grateful that Ms. Herrmann wrote such a wonderful book about such a wonderful person. Among the delicious anecdotes are the revelations that Miss Keller loved her martinis and hot dogs, the latter being withheld from her until later in life. One of the reviewers wrote that the story of Helen Keller's life is a sad one. I could not disagree more. It is a humbling and inspirational one. What a life! What a mind! This fine biography has brought Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan to life, along with the events and people they shared in common. And there are many thought provoking observations about the lives of deaf and blind persons which enrich this excellent book.
Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. At the age of nineteen months she was stricken with scarlet fever--or perhaps rubella or meningitis, according to Herrmann--and was left blind, deaf and mute. When she was seven years old she was released from her isolation by the young Annie Sullivan who taught her to communicate by spelling into her hand.
Annie stayed on as teacher, translator, editor and companion until her death in 1936, after which the torch was passed to other companion-caregivers. Helen spent some time at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, always primarily under Annie's tutelage, and later was admitted to Radcliffe College, becoming the first deaf blind person ever awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree. In spite of the difficulties that writing and editing presented to her, Helen wrote a number of books and articles throughout her life. She had close relationships with Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Clemens, and a number of other notables of her time. Earning a living for herself and her entourage was always a necessity for Helen, and she spent four years on the vaudeville circuit with an act detailing her life and accomplishments. She also earned a living through writing and extensive lecturing (with the assistance of Annie Sullivan, who interpreted for her). In later life she became a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind, and traveled extensively around the world on speaking and fundraising tours. She did this work until she was incapacitated by a series of strokes, six years before her death in 1968 at nearly 88 years of age.
Helen's passion for better opportunities for the disabled led her to the same desire for the working classes; she was a radical socialist, suffragist, member of the activist labor union International Workers of the World (the Wobblies), and a pacifist who opposed the U.S. entry into the First World War.
Author Herrmann thoroughly details the point of view that Helen, dependent as she was on her companions to "frame" the world for her, was to some extent a construct of those companions. Herrmann maintains that Helen was presented to the world as a "secular saint" because that's what the world wanted to see in a handicapped person. Her radical political attitudes, which themselves are attributed largely to Annie's husband John Macy, were a source of embarrassment to Helen's family and her benefactors, and eventually to the Foundation for the Blind which suppressed mention of them as much as possible. The Foundation also in later years controlled all photos of Helen and only allowed publication of those which made her look sweet, happy--and "normal."
Helen, for all the wonderful achievements of her life and the awards that were bestowed on her, was never able to live independently. Herrmann finishes with the factors that influence a deaf-blind person's possibilities. Those who are raised deaf and later become blind (or vice versa), for example, are in a different situation from those deaf and blind from birth. She briefly outlines modern teaching philosophies that allow the deaf-blind to live more independent lives, and mentions a number of high-achieving deaf-blind people who have benefited from them.
Helen Keller was a child of her time. Once the life of a Southern belle was taken from her by disability, her outlook was extremely grim--until Annie Sullivan came into her life. However the credit for Helen's accomplishments is divided up, whatever the truth behind the legend, she must be recognized as one of the outstanding women of her age. Dorothy Herrmann asks many questions that can't be answered, and that's not a bad thing in a biography of a woman so well-documented but so unknowable.
I listened to the unabridged audio of this book (which is not available through Amazon), read by Mary Peiffer.
Linda Bulger, 2009