Showing 111 - 120 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

In the Microscope

Holub, Miroslav

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this short poem (11 lines) the writer sees a whole world in the microscope: among the cells, a world of dreams and suffering, of courage and death.

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Jane Eyre

Bronte, Charlotte

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Young Jane Eyre was orphaned and sent to live with her uncle, who dies shortly after her arrival. Her step-aunt despises her and sends her to Lowood School so that she can become a governess. She wins the friendship of everyone there, but her life is difficult because conditions are poor at the school. Not until typhus kills many of the students do conditions improve.

Jane completes her education there and obtains a position as governess at a house called Thornfield. Jane’s student is Adele Varens, a petulant but loving ward of the master of the house, Edward Rochester (and possibly his illegitimate child). Rochester is rarely at home and Jane spends most of her time with Adele and the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. When Rochester does come home, he is often moody and imposing.

One night, Jane wakes to strange noises and the smell of smoke. She finds Rochester unconscious in his bed, which is on fire. Other odd things happen in the house: Jane often hears strange laughter and thuds. Jane has meanwhile realized that she loves Rochester but in her pride refuses to confess it.

When Rochester invites a group of friends to the house, including Blanche Ingram whom he is expected to marry, Jane is treated like a servant by the guests. One of the guests, Mr. Mason, is mysteriously injured. Jane is also troubled when her former guardian, Mrs. Reed, calls her to her death bed and admits that several years earlier she had received a letter from one of Jane’s distant relatives, John Eyre, a wealthy man who lives in Madeira. Mr. Eyre had offered to adopt Jane, but Mrs. Reed maliciously told him that Jane had died in the typhus epidemic.

When Jane returns from this visit, Rochester asks her to marry him and Jane joyfully assents. Two nights before their wedding, she wakes to find someone in her room, wearing her wedding veil. She faints in fear, but Rochester convinces her it is her imagination. At the wedding, a man interrupts the service, saying Rochester is already married. Rochester admits it and takes the wedding party to the attic. His wife is a Creole, Bertha Mason, who went mad immediately after their wedding fifteen years before. Now she is imprisoned in the attic.

Jane decides she must run away. Penniless, she becomes a beggar until Reverend St. John Rivers and his two sisters generously take her in. She lives with them under an assumed name, and it is only by accident that she learns simultaneously that John Eyre has died and left her his fortune and that the Rivers are her cousins. They share the fortune. Rivers presses her to marry him and join him as a missionary. He admits that he does not love her, but he thinks Jane smart and useful. Jane feels she must do her duty, but she does not want to marry Rivers.

One night, Jane hears Rochester’s voice calling to her. She returns to Thornfield and finds the house burned to the ground. Bertha had set fire to it and Rochester became blinded in his unsuccessful attempt to save her life. Jane and Rochester marry. It is intimated that Rivers will die gloriously for his cause.

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Hospital Sketches

Alcott, Louisa May

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novelette

Summary:

Alcott briefly served as a nurse during the Civil War. These three brief "sketches" recount her experiences, though she gives herself a pseudonym and presumably embellishes her tale. The first sketch recounts her decision to become a nurse and her journey from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. Despite her support of female equality, she finds her tasks go more smoothly when gentlemen help her.

The second sketch describes her job at the hospital. When the wounded are brought in, it is her duty to help wash and feed them, assist the doctors, and cheer the men up. She calls the men her "boys" and treats them maternally. In the third sketch, she falls ill herself and is brought home by her father.

In a postscript, she talks a bit more about the hospital. She criticizes its disorganized management and mocks the doctors, many of whom treat the patients as interesting problems to be solved rather than as people. Caring is left to the nurses. She mentions that she expected to be treated poorly by the doctors herself, but finds that they treat her well (though she also says they receive much better food and sleeping quarters). This section also contains lengthy reflections on the "Negroes" who help at the hospital.

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Illness as Metaphor

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Sontag argues against the use of illness as metaphor. She states her main point on the first page of this long essay : "The most truthful way of regarding illness--and the healthiest way of being ill--is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking."

Tuberculosis and cancer serve as her two central examples of the human tendency to use metaphoric thinking about illness. In the 19th century, tuberculosis was considered a disease of passion, of "inward burning," of the "consumption" of life force. Sufferers were thought to have superior sensibility; the illness purified them of the dross of everyday life. The romantic image of the TB sufferer became "the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image" (p. 29). Metaphoric thinking about TB declined in the early part of the 20th century as the disease succumbed to science and public health measures.

Cancer has now become the predominant disease metaphor in our culture. Cancer is considered a disease of repression, or inhibited passion. The cancer sufferer characteristically suppresses emotion, which after many years emerges from the unconscious self as malignant growth. As in Auden’s poem, Miss Gee, reproduced on page 49, (see annotation in this database): "Childless women get it, / And men when they retire . . . . " Sontag uses the 19th century view of insanity as another example of malignant metaphoric thinking, while metaphor related to syphilis was somewhat more benign. She concludes the essay with an eloquent prediction that, as we learn more about the etiology and treatment of cancer, its metaphorical system will die on the vine. (I wonder if Sontag would consider my "die on the vine" an appropriate metaphor here?)

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Island

Huxley, Aldous

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Will Farnaby, reporter and underground agent for an oil magnate, is shipwrecked on the island of Pala, where for 120 years an ideal society has flourished. In the mid 19th century, a Scottish doctor successfully treated the enlightened Raja of Pala and settled on the island. These two men then designed a perfect society in which (according to the book jacket's description), "sex lives are unabashed; children are carefully conditioned from infancy and none is at the mercy of one set of parents; jobs are assigned according to physique and temperament," and everyone uses "moksha medicine," a drug that sharpens and deepens powers of consciousness.

The Palinese also practice hypnosis, eugenics, and a form of sexual yoga that leads to virtually perfect sexual experience. While Pala has enormous oil reserves, the people are uninterested in developing them because they are happy with their way of life and do not feel the need to become wealthier or more Westernized. Pala's companion island of Rendang is ruled by a ruthless dictator, Colonel Dipa, who plans to develop its oil resources and industrialize the island, while, at the same time, enriching himself.

After his shipwreck, Farnaby is injured climbing a cliff from the beach. He spends time recuperating, during which he meets a number of Palinese people, including Dr. MacPhail (descended from the original Scottish physician) and Murugan, the young man who will soon become the new Raja of Pala. As he learns more about the society, Farnaby comes to respect it and turns away from his plans to promote oil development on the island.

However, Murugan (who was raised largely in Switzerland by a fanatic mother who runs a fundamentalist Christian movement) frowns upon the sexual freedom, drug use, and general lack of "ambition" among his countrymen. He secretly conspires with Colonel Dipa to sell-out Pala. At the end of the book, the army of Rendang has invaded Pala and declared a joint kingdom of Rendang and Pala with Murugan as king and Colonel Dipa as Prime Minister.

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Isolation Ward

Foerster, Richard

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator carries hothouse orchids as a gift to a friend in the hospital. When he gets there, he feels out of place, not having expected "barricades / against infection, the doors’ / pneumatic psshh . . . . " He regrets that his gift flowers are tame, when "the room / cried out for wildness." The place is sleek, efficient, and antiseptic. His friend--who is not described in the poem--"would never rise / from the motored bed." Who could blame the narrator for looking away? Or for wishing that he could have brought a gift of wilder, more glorious flowers? (40 lines).

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Joshua, Son of None

Freedman, Nancy

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A surgical resident named Thor Bitterbaum happens to be in attendance when the fatally wounded President John Kennedy arrives at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He immediately remembers the work of a scientist who had performed some successful cloning experiments. In the twinkling of an eye, he locates a liquid nitrogen container and freezes a sample of the President’s tissue. He then locates G. K. Kellogg, a multimillionaire who is willing to foot the bill to clone President Kennedy. Kellogg’s plan is to reproduce the major events of Kennedy’s life so that his "son" has essentially the same experience as JFK and grows up to be elected President of the United States.

Not surprisingly, some things go wrong with the plan, but, in general, the whole bizarre scheme works out as G. K. and "Uncle" Thor intend it to. Joshua Francis Kellogg, the cloned child, eventually learns his origin, rebels against his "father’s" plan, blows his cover by writing a book about his experience, but ultimately becomes a successful politician just as G. K. had envisioned.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This work is an adaptation and abridgment of a classic work of Chekhov scholarship by Vladimir Kataev published in Russia in 1979 and presented here in English for the first time. Professor Kataev is concerned primarily with Chekhov’s perspective and methodology, the manner in which Chekhov looks at the world and, hence, the kinds of stories he tells and the methods by which he tells them.

The characteristic Chekhovian perspective first appears in recognizable form in stories that Chekhov wrote in his breakthrough years of the mid-1880s, yet it continued to develop and deepen throughout his writing career. Thus, If Only We Could Know is arranged chronologically. In each chapter the author discusses one or more stories or plays, using them as grist for his topical mill, beginning with "Kashanka" (1887) and ending with The Bishop (1902) and The Cherry Orchard(1903).

According to Kataev, the key to understanding Chekhov is to understand his epistemology or philosophy of knowledge. Basically, in Chekhov’s world the characters do not have access to a privileged perspective or to ultimate truth. "The relative, conditional nature of ideas and opinions, and of stereotyped ways of thinking and behaving; the refusal to regard an individual solution as absolute; and the baselessness of various claims to possession of ’real truth’: these are constants in Chekhov’s world." (p. 164) Thus, the characters communicate poorly and often end up inadvertently causing pain, or sabotaging their own life projects.

Nonetheless, Chekhov’s vision is not pessimistic. Chapter 16, "Chekhov’s General Conclusions," summarizes Kataev’s analysis of the author’s overall approach. Chekhov’s conclusions "may be negative {no one knows the real truth), or affirmative (seeking the truth is an inalienable part of human nature), or they may take the form of indicating the criteria and conditions necessary for establishing real truth." (p. 168) Thus, Kataev expresses here, as well as in his analyses of individual works, the dialectical (my term--JC) relationship between the facts of Chekhov’s stories (i.e. failed beliefs, failed communication, missed opportunities) and his compassion for human nature that searches endlessly for love and meaning in life.

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Summary:

The book is based on a series of conversations between Edith Heal and William Carlos Williams that took place over a five-month period in the mid 1950s. Williams had published more than 40 books (some of them mere pamphlets) between 1909 and 1957, the span of time covered in these conversations. The interviewer asked him to make biographical comments related to each book--what he was doing at the time, how the book came about, and how this particular work related to his development as a writer.

Thus, after Williams makes some introductory comments about becoming a poet, the book is arranged chronologically, with one to several pages devoted to each book from the privately printed "Poems" in 1909 to "The Lost Poems of William Carlos Williams" (New Directions) and "The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams" (McDowell, Obolensky, Inc.), both published in 1957.

In many cases, especially for some of the early pamphlets and, later, the "selected" and "collected" volumes, Williams’s comments are short and avuncular. However, his reminiscences about the major books are interesting and insightful, although, of course, they put us in touch with the persona that their author wished to reveal, and not necessarily with the "real" William Carlos Williams.

Typical comments include this, about "Spring and All" (1923), in which so many of Williams’s most famous poems were originally collected: "Nobody ever saw it--it had no circulation at all--but I had a lot of fun with it." (p. 36) Regarding The Knife of the Times and Other Stories (1932), he comments: "This is the first book of short stories . . . I felt furious at the country for its lack of progressive ideas . . . These people didn’t know anything about poetry, about literature. They were not interested in me as a writer, but as a man and a physician." (pp. 49-50)

Williams’s first Collected Poems appeared in 1934, "Needless to say, it didn’t sell at all." (Only 500 copies were made.) Williams finally broke into the world of commercial publishing with New Directions and his 1937 novel, White Mule (see annotation in this database). [At the time he was 54 years old!] New Directions subsequently published two other novels in The White Mule trilogy, along with short stories (Life Along the Passaic River) and his later volumes of poems.

Williams has a lot to say about his massive poetic project, Patterson, which was very well received in its first installment (1946), but became progressively less entrancing to the critics in Books 2 through 5. In Book 2 of Patterson (1948) he mentions first using his famous triadic variable foot, which he later developed fully in The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962): "From the time I hit on this I knew what I was going to have to do . . . My two leading forces were trying to know life and trying to find a technique of verse. Now I had it--a sea change." (pp. 82-83)

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

It is difficult to characterize this book, which consists of a series of roughly chronological chapters, each of which deals with a person or an event important in shaping (or representative of) "the American grain." Williams begins with Red Eric (Eric the Red), whose son Leif Ericsson "discovered" the North American continent, and continues with chapters on Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, De Soto, Walter Raleigh, the Pilgrims, Champlain, Cotton Mather, Daniel Boone, George Washington, and so forth.

In each case the focus is on character and impact--not so much "impact" on the historical panorama, but "impact" on the emerging and evolving American character (or grain). In that sense the book might be considered an impressionistic biography of the childhood and adolescence of the American spirit.

About halfway through the book in a chapter entitled "Père Sebastian Rasles" (p. 105), Williams steps into the narrative as a first person narrator describing events that occurred during "my six weeks in Paris." Here he connects the development of American literature, as exemplified by Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D. and other expatriates, to American cultural history, in this case the evolving conflict between the New England puritan culture and a Catholic influence that filtered down from Quebec (personalized in the form of the Jesuit priest for whom the chapter is named).

The clearest statement of the American grain occurs in a chapter called "Jacataqua." Consider this: "The United States without self-seeking has given more of material help to Europe and to the world . . . than have all other nations of the world put together in the entire history of mankind." (p. 175) "It is this which makes us the flaming terror of the world . . . with hatred barking at us from every sea." (p. 176) "America adores violence, yes. It thrills at big fires and explosions." (p. 177) And so forth. Williams’s observations remain pretty much on target in 2003, nearly 80 years after he wrote them.

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