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Helen Keller: A Life


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Since William Gibson's 1959 play and, later, the film The Miracle Worker, Keller (1880-1968) has been overshadowed in memory by her indefatigable teacher, Annie Sullivan. Herrmann (Anne Morrow Lindbergh) returns KellerÄblind, deaf and muteÄto the center of her own story, although Sullivan nonetheless remains the determined manager of the miracle that was Keller herself, who was seven at their meeting and frustrated by her grim, blank world. Spelling impressions into Keller's palm, Sullivan opened a sensory door. By controlling the metamorphosis of Keller's personality, Sullivan released the rural Alabama girl who eventually became one of the most famous females of her time. Sullivan did not set out to create a prodigy, yet Keller soon became one, writing books and articles on a special typewriter, meeting every president from Cleveland to Eisenhower, finding mentors and friends in the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain. Unwilling to accept handouts and insisting on earning a living on her own, KellerÄwith Sullivan until she died in 1936 at age 70Äwent on the vaudeville stage and later lectured and involved herself with left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Party. She remained a stoic, often charming woman with strong ideas and acute senses of touch and smell that kept her in sensory contract with what she could neither see nor hear. Herrmann's life avoids sentimentality and evokes the grievously handicapped Keller stretched by protective persistence into a figure admired worldwide. Photos. (Aug.)

Biographer Herrmann (Anne Morrow Lindbergh: A Gift for Life, LJ 11/15/92) takes us beyond the image of Helen Keller portrayed in The Miracle Worker to unearth a passionate, politically radical woman whose inspiration and teacher, Annie Sullivan, is equally fiery and brilliant. Herrmann brings us into the everyday lives of the famous pair, but the story is hardly mundane. The quasi-sexual undertones of Keller and Sullivan's relationship are present, but psychological motives are always offered. Sullivan forsook the attention of men while consciously or unconsciously turning Keller from a "monster" into a "grateful, helpless child" and then the "utterly dependent woman [who] would never desire to be free of her." Herrmann gives us fascinating details via archives and unpublished memoirs to show how society's view of disabled people was greatly shaped by Keller and Sullivan. The result is not dissimilar to Joseph Lash's dual biography, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan (LJ 5/15/80). Herrmann's work can stand alongside Keller's famous autobiography The Story of My Life. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/98.]‘Kay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City

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