Words, Worlds and Literacies
Signal 78: Approaches to Children's
Books, September 1995.
Copyright permission by SIGNAL, The Thimble Press
Helen is a wonderful child, so spontaneous and eager to learn. She knows about 300 words now and a great many common idioms, and it is not three months yet since she learned her first word. It is a rare priviledge to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble struggles of the living mind; this priviledge is mine; and moreover, it is given to me to rouse and guide this bright intelligence... I have made up my mind about one thing; Helen must learn to use books. (Anne Sullivan to Sophia Hopkins, 22 May 1887)1
Helen Keller not only learned to use books, she also wrote books for others to use. At one time thought uneducable, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe, the women's college associated with Harvard University, in 1904. She was conversant with several languages, including Greek, Latin, French, German, and English, and had a lengthy publication and public service record. During her lifetime she published fourteen books, three of them autobiographical/biographical narratives: The Story of My Life, Midstream: My Later Life, and Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy. In addition she published books on rehgion, politics, and social vision as well as a book-length poem.2 Helen Keller: Her Socialist Writings, edited by Philip Foner, was published in 1967, one year before her death. Besides books, essays and articles, she maintained an extensive correspondence with numerous friends and associates around the world. A woman with 'cornmunicative hmitations', as she called her sensory state, she was also a woman with significant communicative abihtles.
In addition to being literate on the page, Helen was also an articulate activist nationally and internationally. She served on numerous policy committees for the development of health and educational programmes for the child and adult blind in the United States. She lectured throughout her own country as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the Middle East, India, and Scandinavia. She supported educational policy and practices for people with disabilitles, and was an activist against the societal and personal havoc created by poverty, industrialization and capitalism. She gave public addresses promoting socialism, peace, child welfare and the suffrage movement. She also starred in Deliverance, a film about her educational life with Sullivan. The two of thern took their story to vaudeville for four years where they found they could earn rnore money with their 'act' on stage than from touring the lecture circuit.
The sights and sounds of various worlds came to Helen Keller through her abihty to represent language symbolically in the form of manual spelling, reading, writing and eventually speech. Her story, and she told it in various autobiographical forms over a sixty-year period, is well worth revisiting. It is the story of a child without hearing or vision - 'Phantom' as she named herself' - coming to sight and sound through language. For her, sight and sound were linked to the awakening of the soul, and the awakening of her soul was inextricably linked to a reawakening of language within her.
Helen's words, worlds, and literacies were deeply connected to those of her mother, Kate Keller, and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Her mother, a member of the eminent Adams family, was raised in comfort, with the formal education and well- read literacy to be expected of a young woman of her circumstances. It was Kate who eventually secured the teaching services of twenty-one-year-old Anne Sullivan, first-generation Irish Catholic, raised in poverty and blindness, without schooling or sufficient sight to read until the age of fourteen when she was released from the Tewksbury, Massachusetts, almshouse. The story of these women is one that demonstrates the Freirian notion of the world teaching the word; it illuminates the literate yet diverse communities these women were born into.
The No- World
Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious time of nothingness.3
Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on 27 June 1880, the first child of twenty-three-year-old Kate Keller and the third child of Captain Arthur Keller, who had just begun his second family. At nineteen months, as a result of illness, she entered what she later named her ,no-world' state. She became both deaf and blind and consequently without speech.
It was Helen's belief that her mother suffered greatly when her firstborn daughter slipped into this no-world way of being. Kate may have suffered but she also took constructive action, putting into practice what Sara Ruddick would surely recognize as maternal thinking. Kate paid careful attention to what Helen as an adult called her 'crude signs', gestures, approximately sixty of them-literacies of the body - the means by which Helen communicated with household members. Gestures imitated 'the acts of cutting the slices [of bread] and buttering them'; when Helen wanted her mother to make ice cream for dinner she would make 'the sign for working the freezer and shivered, indicating cold'.
Despite being advised that her daughter was an idiot and should be placed in institutional care, Kate Keller considered Helen to be an intelligent person, and quite deliberately kept her at home, in many ways an ideal late nineteenth-century literate home. Helen's father was a storyteller and the owner-editor of a weekly newspaper. Her mother was an omnivorous reader who made good use of the family library, Chaucer, Ruskin, Carlyle and Boswell's Johnson being among her favourites. Though she didn't like Shaw or Lawrence, she admired Whitman, Balzac, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Lanier. Kate also read Charles Dickens, whose American Notes was of particular significance in Helen's eventual coming to language. On Dickens's first trip to the United States in 1842, he visited the Perkins Institution, where he met Laura Bridgman, a permanent resident from 1837 until her death in 1889. Bridgman was the first person at Perkins, deprived of sight and sound, who had learned to read and write. Dickens wrote glowingly of the Perkins Institution, the reading and writing capacities of Bridgman, and the teaching skills of Dr Samuel Howe.
After reading Dickens's account, Kate convinced her husband that they must explore educational possibilities for Helen. Dr Chisholm, a renowned Baltimore oculist, referred the family to Alexander Graham Bell, who subsequently advised the Kellers to contact Michael Anagnos, the Director of the Perkins Institution where Bridgman still lived. Anagnos, in turn, contacted former student Anne Sullivan, who, after graduating in 1886, was living with Sophia Hopkins, a woman who had worked at Perkins.
When Sullivan was offered employment as Helen's teacher, she returned to the Perkins Institution, a student once more, this time to study the records that Dr Howe and his assistants had kept on their work with Laura Bridgman. The material that gave Kate Keller hope for her daughter, Howe's reports that Dickens made public in American Notes, provided Anne Sullivan with the means to teach Helen to read and write.
I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me until she came my
teacher-who was to set my spirit free. (Helen Keller, Story 26)
Before Anne Sullivan could set Helen's spirit free, and introduce her to language and books, she had had to free herself from illiteracy, blindness, and the almshouse of her childhood. At the age of fourteen, seven years before beginning her work with Helen Keller, Sullivan could neither read nor write, was clinically blind, and had been a resident of the Tewksbury almshouse from the age of ten. How, then, did she learn to read and write, to see and to take leave of almshouse living so that she might begin her life's work?
Sullivan's illiteracy was primarily due to her physical and economic circumstances. Anne was the first-born of impoverished Irish immigrants at a time when the 'Irish were the lowest class of the white population in the north'.Though her first biographer, Nella Braddy, claims that 'no cultural influences' entered Sullivan's life, this depends on how culture is defined. Sullivan was not born into the 'high' culture of the Kellers, true, but she was not without culture. Though she couldn't read, she was a versatile storyteller. She had heard stories all her life, beginning with her father's recitation of Celtic tales and Gaelic poetry. After her mother died, she and her brother jimmy were taken to the almshouse, a place packed with indigent Irish immigrants, mostly single women and unemployed men. Here were stories of a different kind. In Tewksbury she learned of the Protestant persecutions, the fives of the saints, Parnell's' political exploits, the Great Irish Famine, the day-to-day life of the almshouse women, who were pregnant, sick, or widowed-individuals living with poverty, rape, violence, unemployment, disease.
At the age of five Sullivan was struck by a virus which left her with a lifelong visual impairment. Although her family home contained no books, the almshouse had a small library, and one of the Tewksbury workers, Maggie Hogan, persuaded Tilly Delaney to read aloud to Sullivan, selecting 'unmistakably Irish authors' as the first books. Through this process of women caring about reading and each other's literacy Sullivan heard her first novels. Literary theorist Mary Klages calls them sentimental/ domestic novels, tales such as: Ten Nights in a Barroom, Tempest and Sunshine, The Octoroon, Cast Up by the Sea, and The Lamplighter.4 I can imagine that these titles might have sounded romantically adventuresome to Sullivan, and confirming of the life stories retold by Tewksbury inmates.
These selections were not the only texts read aloud to Sullivan. She also kept up with the happenings in and about Boston through daily accounts read from 7he Pilot, a newspaper published by Ben Butler, an Irish immigrant himself, who went on, with controversy, to become a governor of Massachusetts. By the age of fourteen, then, Sullivan was literate, steeped in Irish culture, oral culture, the culture of sentimental fiction, and the everyday cultural politics of life in Boston for the Irish immigrant.
It was these very literacies that helped her demand her leave of Tewksbury. While listening to excerpts from 7he Pilot, she and the other residents heard about a public inquiry into their living conditions. When E.B. Sandborn, head of the inquiry, visited the almshouse, Sullivan followed his entourage from ward to ward, finally summoning the courage to yell out: 'Mr Sandborn, Mr Sandborn, I want to go to school'. Soon afterwards, Sullivan was taken from the almshouse and placed in the Perkins Institution for the Blind where her formal education began. It was 7 October 1880. Helen Keller was just three months old.
Upon entering Perkins, Sullivan discovered that her newly found education contradicted much that she had learned at Tewksbury. Being Catholic, Irish and a state ward were clearly undesirable characteristics. She was ridiculed because of her speech, her dress and her inability to read. Placed in the beginning classes with the youngest children, she was referred to as Big Annie. Cut out from her former existence - one attempt at attending the Tewksbury inquiry almost cost her expulsion - Sullivan began her formal education 'sick with longing for the familiar and uncritical companionship of her friends in the almshouse'.
The oral literacies acquired from her Tewksbury friends gave Sullivan the groundwork for her textual education at Perkins.The culture of the Irish was replaced through an immersion in English literature and grammar. An eye operation gave her partial sight, enough to read on her own. From the Perkins library, where 'very little got through that was not good', Sullivan read the carefully selected Braille books by sight rather than touch. Her imagination was newly fired by such texts as: Silas Marner, The Vicar of Wakefield, The Scarlet Letter, Quentin Durward, The Last Days of Pompeii, and 7he Old Curiosity Shop. In class, Shakespeare became a favourite. She now had access to 7he Tempest, King Lear, and As You Like It and found that she loved the 'magic of great poetry, the beauty, the romance'. Sullivan also had the opportunity to read periodicals such as The Atlantic, St Nicholas, The Youth Companion, The Living Age, and a range of religious papers and journals. The Pilot as not one of these, however. As Sullivan told Nella Braddy in 1932:
At Tewksbury, nothing was censored. What reading aloud there was at the Institution was done in the evening by one of the teachers, who carefully omitted all that Tewksbury used to dwell upon-rape, fights, violence and murder. (A. S. Macy 65-6).
Sullivan was now being educated with the daughters of teachers, ministers, doctors, and dentists. No longer was she privy to the wide-ranging life experiences and imaginings of the almshouse women. In her literacy education, the oral form was supplanted by the written. In part, Sullivan's story is about how one so-called illiterate accessed current cultural literacy to become the very successful teacher of an exceptional child.
Sullivan journeys south
My first question was 'Where is Helen?' I tried with all my might to control the eagerness that made me tremble so that I could hardly walk ... As we approached the house I saw a child standing in the doorway ... I had scarcely put my foot on the steps, when Helen rushed toward me with such force that she would have thrown me backward if Captain Keller had not been behind me. (Story 244)
Sullivan had had a long and difficult journey from Boston and the Kellers were as eager for her arrival as she was. By the time she disembarked in Tuscumbia on 3 March 1887, Kate Keller had been meeting trains for two days.
Sullivan wasted no time making use of the lessons she had learned from her reading of Howe's reports on teaching Bridgman. As the trunk was being unpacked, Helen came upon the doll which the girls at Perkins had bought for her, a doll Bridgman had dressed. Sullivan writes:
I thought it a good opportunity to teach her her first word. I spelled d-o-l-l slowly into her hand and pointed to the doll and nodded my head which seems to be her sign for possession. (Story 246)
In this way, Sullivan bridged Helen's literacy of the body - pointing to self, object and then a nod of the head for 'mine'- with the sign of an arbitrary language system, the manual spelling of doll. Bridging worlds and creating connections takes time, and Sullivan's teaching act was not without incident. As Sullivan explained to Hopkins, although Helen appeared puzzled by the signs, she imitated them very well. However, when Sullivan took the doll back in an attempt to make Helen repeat the sign, essentially to ask for the doll, 'in an instant she was in a temper, and tried to seize the doll'.When Sullivan shook her head no, Helen became angrier. Sullivan then 'forced her into a chair and held her there until I was nearly exhausted'. In an effort to end the struggle and 'to change the current of her thoughts' Sullivan released Helen, kept the doll, and located some cake. Then she enacted the same procedure with this new and equally desirable object. When Sullivan spelled c-a-k-e into Helen's hand, Helen repeated the sign, was given the cake and ate it in a tremendous hurry, fearful, Sullivan believes, that it too would be taken from her. Sullivan then spelled doll once more into Helen's hand.
She made the letters d-o-1 and I made the other 'l'and gave her the doll. She ran downstairs with it and could not be induced to return to my room all day. (Story 246)
Helen Keller certainly had a will of her own, if not linguistic thought, and she recalls Phantom during this time as being 'plump, strong, reckless, and unafraid'. She describes the most dramatic of their physical encounters as follows:
One morning Phantom would not sit down to learn her words which meant nothing to her, and kicked over the table. When Annie put the table back in its place and insisted on continuing the lesson, Phantom's fist flew out like lightning and knocked out two of Annie's teeth. (Teacher 38)
By 1 April, less than one month after Sullivan's arrival, the physical battles had ended and Helen knew twenty-nine manual signs. Of these, twenty-five were nouns, four were verbs. During their first month together, Sullivan kept regular lessons with Helen. Their day began with breakfast, after which they went to the garden where Helen played in the dirt 'like any other child' and the two of them 'watched' the men at work. At ten o'clock, Sullivan moved the lessons indoors for a few minutes of bead stringing followed by knitting, sewing, or crocheting, whatever Helen chose. Sullivan had learned these handicrafts at Perkins, and though she considered them to be 'inventions of the devil', they were the expected curricula for girls and Helen learned them 'as well as any child of her age could do'. At eleven the two of them did gymnastics - free-hand and dumb-bell movements. From twelve till one new words were formally taught. However, as Sullivan writes to Sophia Hopkins:
... you mustn't think this is the only time I spell to Helen; for 1 spell in her hand everything we do all day long, although she has no idea yet what the spelling means. (Story 255-6)
After dinner, Sullivan rested while Helen played with the children in the household. At two, Sullivan joined them for a round of the outhouses - horses, mules, chickens, turkeys. From four until six, they visited Helen's relatives, which Helen loved. After supper, they did all sorts of things in Sullivan's room and then Helen was put to bed by her teacher. Although Kate Keller offered Sullivan a nurse, she refused for two reasons: 'I like to have Helen depend on me for everything and I find it much easier to teach her things at odd moments.' (Story 256)
Sullivan had studied Howe's notes on Bridgman very carefully, and perfected the manual alphabet with Laura Bridgman herself. However, Sullivan's approach to teaching Helen reading and writing differed from Howe's, a difference that eventually allowed Helen to function as part of a larger community whereas Bridgman only felt comfortable within Perkins. Joseph Lash describes the Sullivan-Howe difference in his 1980 biography Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy:
Here was the germ of an important difference between Annie's way of teaching Helen and Dr. Howe's methods with Laura. The latter worked tirelessly to teach Laura how to communicate, but he was not the child's daylong companion. He had many other concerns. He was a scientist and teacher, Annie a substitute mother, the child's alter ego. (54)
Indeed, Sullivan too worked tirelessly, from sun-up to long past sundown, teaching Helen to communicate by spelling continually into her hand. That Lash calls Howe a scientist and teacher, and Sullivan a substitute mother and alter ego, is illuminating. By categorizing roles in this way, he places the function of teacher and scientist outside the 'home-world' and diminishes the place of maternal thought and practice, as well as empathy with children, in the emerging of children's literacies.5
The long-held distinction between child-rearing and education, which Lash perpetuates, is false. In fact, Sullivan was many things to Helen. She can be likened to a scientist in her experimental and observant approach to her student's learning. Clearly a teacher, she was well versed in Howe's pedagogy, his method of teaching children, blind and deaf, to read and write, yet she also had an improvisatory spirit. She deliberately made herself a mother-like figure as she saw to it that Helen was well socialized in daily habits of care, and she loved her.
As well as teaching Helen in a maternal sense, Sullivan playfully entered Helen's 're-awakened childhood' perhaps because her own was so far from ideal. In addition, Sullivan had the lived experience of being blind, a non-reader until fourteen, and inheriting a rich oral history. It strikes me that it is the multiplicity of Sullivan's perspectives, named and unnamed, in concert with Helen's intelligence and supportive home that released Phantom from her non-linguistic state.
Awakening the Soul: Helen Leaves the No- World
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten - a thrill of returning thought; and the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free. (Story 36)
This famous passage is taken from Helen's first autobiography, The Story of My Life, written as college themes in an English class at Radcliffe. She was twenty-two years old. Revisiting her text over fifty years later, when she was writing the biographical/autobiographical Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy, she regrets having presented her coming to language as if in one moment she had 'grasped the whole mystery of language'. Out of respect for Sullivan's lifework of restoring her 'human heritage' by restoring her to language, and I believe to set straight the public record, Helen rewrites this aspect of her education. She analyses Phantom's no-world state, the successive phases of coming to language, and the naturalness of Teacher's method. From my reading of this section of Helen Keller's account, it is apparent that she has carefully consulted, among other sources, Anne Sullivan's letters to Sophia Hopkins.
Philosopher Susanne Langer says that Keller's description of 'returning thought' is the 'best affidavit we could hope to find for the genuine difference between sign and symbol'. For Langer 'the sign is something to act upon or a means to command action; the symbol is an instrument of thought'.6 While in her no-world, Helen could sign according to Langer's definition, that is, she could act upon instruction or demand attention. She was literate in the sense that she could make her body act. The 'symbol as instrument of thought' took place when she understood the symbolic meaning of the word water. According to Sullivan:
As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled w-a-t-e-r in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new fight came into her face. She spelled w-a-t-e-r several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled 'Teacher.'... All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary. (Story 257)
Sullivan now abandoned regular lessons. She observed. She experimented. She improvised. She paid close attention to how her student learned. By observing Helen's younger sister, Mildred, a child with sight and sound learning language, Sullivan 'repeated verbatim what she had heard', helping Helen to 'take part in conversation' as an ordinary child would.
If I did not know the words and idioms necessary to express my thoughts she supplied them, even suggesting conversation when I was unable to keep up my end of the dialogue. (Story 41)
Helen Keller describes Teacher's approach as natural, for Teacher taught her to read in the same way that normal children were taught to read. Sullivan did not give her student every word but left her 'to puzzle out the meaning for herself'. She notes that Teacher 'dropped the verbs in one at a time' or supplied a word or two which 'gave new wings to a child's individuality'. In her revisioning of the art of Sullivan's teaching, she uses the metaphor of melting snow to articulate how her emerging relationship with language released her from her no-world. As she learned nouns, adjectives and then verbs, some of the snow began to melt. Later, when she was able to ask questions herself, the snow cover vanished and 'Phantom disappeared' as
life tumbled upon Helen full of meaning ... the flood of restored companionship was the real wonder of those early years and not Helen's miscalled phenomenal progress in language. (Teacher 44)
Helen's relations with self, family, friends, nature and eventually books were grounded in her ability to use language, to talk, to read and eventually to write. When Helen could spell words, Sullivan put them into raised print and on pieces of cardboard, then Helen matched names to objects, created sentences and eventually read from beginning readers. At the same time, Sullivan was continually talking into Helen's hand, using 'constructive play' to engage her in learning. The two of them often read and studied outdoors, 'preferring the sunlit woods to the house'.
Helen read her first 'connected story' in May 1887. 'From that day to this,' she wrote in her first autobiography, 'I have devoured everything in the shape of a printed page that has come within reach of my hungry finger tips'. In fact she read and reread her first readers, a collection of stories for children, until 'the words were so worn and pressed I could scarcely make them out'. In her 2 June 1887 letter to Hopkins, Sullivan writes that 'Helen is almost as eager to read as she is to talk' and tells the story of 'Helen sound asleep with a big book clasped tightly in her arms'.
In May 1888, fourteen months after Sullivan's arrival, Helen's literary education continued as, with her mother and teacher, Helen headed north to the Perkins Institution. It was during this first trip to Boston that she 'began to read in earnest'. As she was in the library one day intently reading The Scarlet Letter, Sullivan suggested an alternative text that was to become one of Helen's favourite childhood books, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Helen first had Frances Burnett's newly published book spelled to her by finger; she loved it so much, however, that Anagnos had it produced in raised print. This was ideal, as she 'preferred reading myself to being read to, because I liked to read again and again things that pleased me' (Story 91).
It is from her reading of Fauntleroy that Helen dates the 'beginning of my true interest in books'. For extended periods of time over the next four years she had access to the Perkins Library where she enjoyed books such as A Child's History of England by Dickens, Tales from Shakespeare by the Lambs, The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Little Women, and Heidi. (Story 93)
Not long after beginning to read, she began to write. She wrote letters to all kinds of people, surprising Sullivan initially with her ability to do so. As Sullivan wrote to Hopkins:
I had no idea she knew what a letter was. She has often gone with me to the post office to mail letters, and I suppose I have repeated to her things I wrote to you ... but I didn't suppose that she had any clear idea of what a letter was. (Story 265)
Helen's early letters, which can be read in current paperback editions of The Story of my Life, were written to her mother, a cousin, the girls at Perkins, Michael Anagnos, and Alexander Graham Bell. In examining her written literacy as it evolves in her letters, it is evident that, at times, letters became a place for her to talk about books. Such is the case in her letter of 17 October 1888 to Anagnos.
When I am thirteen years old I am going to travel in many strange and beautiful countries ... I shall visit Little Lord Fauntleroy in England and he will be glad to show me his grand and very ancient castle. And we will run with the deer and feed the rabbits and catch the squirrels. I shall not be afraid of Fondler's great dog Dougal. I hope Fondler take me to see a very kind queen. (Story 135)
As all children do, Helen moved across the arbitrary boundaries that delineate fiction and nonfiction. When she was eleven she tried her hand at fictional writing. It turned out to be a costly endeavour. She had written a story entitled 'The Frost King' and sent it to Anagnos for his birthday. He was so delighted with her abilities as a budding writer that he printed it in Perkins's alumni publication. When someone spotted that Keller's story bore a strong resemblance to Dorothy Canby's 'The Frost Faeries', Anagnos set up a tribunal to investigate, essentially charging Helen, and Sullivan, with plagiarism. Both Canby and Sullivan understood that Helen intended no harm. She was so upset by her inadvertent copying that Canby sent her a letter of assurance. 'Someday,' she wrote, 'you will write a great story out of your own head, that will be a comfort and help to many' (Story 66). Where Anagnos saw a case of plagiarism, Sullivan believed that 'all children, blind or seeing, learned to put their ideas into the world by imitation and assimilation'(Teacher 75).
With the Frost King episode, Helen was subjected to public criticism of her writing for the first but certainly not the last time in her life. As she writes in Teacher, although Sullivan
tried to revive my interest in literary effort by encouraging me to write a short story of my life for 7he Youth Companion, I could not express myself freely, so afraid was I that I might unintentionally copy something from another and again be accused of plagiarism. (Teacher 75)
It took Helen almost a year to submit her autobiographical piece for the magazine.
Ten years later, when Helen was at Radcliffe, Professor Copland suggested that she trust her own experience and write the story of her life so that others might learn from her just as Canby had anticipated. Although she had supposedly left fiction behind, the opening sentence of Story indicates Helen's insights and apprehensions about the truthfulness of setting down one's own story. She says, 'it is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my life ... I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present'.7
In Midstream Keller addresses more directly the idea of originality
Perhaps it is true of everyone, but it seems to me that in a special way what I read becomes a part of me. What I am conscious of borrowing from my author friends I put in quotation marks, but I do not know how to indicate the wandering seeds that drop unperceived into my soul ... I prefer to put quotations marks at the beginning and end of my book and leave to those who have contributed to its interest or charm or beauty to take what is theirs and accept my gratitude for the help they have been to me ... I know that I am not original either in content or form. I have not opened new paths to thought or new vistas to truth, but I hope that my books have paid tribute in some small measure to the authors who have enriched my life. (328)
Helen Keller's books also pay tribute to the teacher who helped author her life and to the diverse mix of literacies and communities that made possible what Helen called 'utopia'. For her, utopia was the place where she was "not disenfranchised ... [where] no barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends".
1. Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Doubleday, Page, 1903.This edition includes a selection of Helen's letters from 1887 to 1901 and 'a supplementary account of her education, including passages from the reports and letters of her teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan'. The book was edited by John Macy, who was married to Sullivan for over a decade. Throughout, I quote from the 1954 Doubleday reprint of the 1903 edition.
2. Helen Keller's other published works: Optimism: An Essay (1903), 7-he World I Live In (1910), 7he Song of the Stone Wall (1910), Out of the Dark: A Collection of Essays, Letters and Addresses on Physical and Social Vision (1920), My Religion (1927), Peace at Eventide (1932), Helen Keller in Scotland (1933), Helen Keller's journal: 1936-1937 (1938), Let Us have Faith (1941), The Open Door (1957), Helen Keller: Her Socialist Writings (1967).
3. Helen Keller,'Before the Soul Dawn', 7he World I Live In, pages 113-14.
4. In her doctoral work, More Wonderful Than Any Fiction: The Representation of Helen Keller, Mary Klages examines popular writings by and about Keller as products of larger cultural debates that contrast feminine idealist rhetorical mode with masculine materialist mode.
5. For my doctoral work, A Reclamation of the Educational Thought of Helen Keller: Her Journey from No- World to World-Home, 1 examined Keller's autobiographical narratives, Story, Midstream and Teacher, and from them reconstructed my interpretation of her educational thought. I framed this thought by using Keller's self-named worlds drawn from her essays 'Before the Soul Dawn' and 'The Modern Woman
6. Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, pages 62, 63.
7. Sullivan said something similar to her biographer, Nella Braddy, in 1933. She recognized that, when putting a life story into words, the teller must fill in gaps, which means that 'the truth of a matter is not what I tell you about it, but what you divine in regard to it'.
Burton Blatt, 'Friendly Letters on the Correspondence of Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, and Burton
Blatt', Exceptional Children, Volume 51.5, 1988
Nella Braddy, Anne Sullivan Macy: The Story Behind Helen Keller, Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1933
Philip S. Foner, editor, Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years, N.Y International, 1967
Helen Keller, Midstream: My Later Life, Crowell Publishing, 1929. 1 have quoted from the Greenwood Press reissue, 1968.
Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Doubleday, Page, 1903. I have quoted from the 1954 reprint of this edition.
Helen Keller, Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy, Doubleday, 1955. I have quoted from the Greenwood Press reissue, 1985.
Helen Keller,'Before the Soul Dawn', The World I Live In, Century, 1910
Mary Krag Klages, More Wonderful 71an Any Fiction.. 77ie Representation of Helen Keller. Dissertadon. Ann Arbor: UI, 1989
Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art., third edition, Harvard University Press, 1957
Joseph Lash, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy. Delacorte Press, 1980
Sara Ruddick, Maternal 77iinking: Towards a Politics of Peace. Ballantine Books, 1990
Pam Whitty, A Reclamation of the Educational Thought of Helen Keller: Her journey from No- World to World-Home. Dissertation. Ann Arbor: UI, 1993
Also included in this publication:
"Grace Abounding" by Barbara Ker Wilson
"Grace Hogarth, in Celebration" by Elaine Moss, Delia Huddy, Philippa Pearce, Julia MacRae, & Nancy Chambers
"The Jolly Postman's Long Ride, or, Sketching a Picture-Book History" by David Lewis
"John Newbery and Tom Telescope" by John Rowe Townsend
"Endpapers" including Maria Pia Alignani on Gianni Rodari Annual Index: Volume 26
Us | Publications | Courses
Offered | The Gallery | What's
Happening | Our Arts Program | Links
Comments to: email@example.com Last update: 2003/07/23