Showing 131 - 140 of 293 annotations tagged with the keyword "Obsession"

Dr. Haggard's Disease

McGrath, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this first person narrative, Dr. Edward Haggard addresses his story to James, the son of his former lover Fanny Vaughn. Haggard, once a surgical registrar at a major hospital in London, has isolated himself in a coastal town, where he serves as a general practitioner. The "present" of Dr. Haggard’s story is the early stages of World War II, when James Vaughn, a Royal Air Force pilot, lies dying in Edward Haggard’s arms.

The story’s "past" has multiple dimensions. The outermost, framing story recounts the relationship between James and Edward that began several months before the war and a year or so following Fanny Vaughn’s death from kidney disease. James sought out the reclusive Dr. Haggard to discover the "truth" about Haggard’s relationship with his mother.

The inner story consists of Haggard’s description of his reckless and passionate love affair with Fanny, an ultimately hopeless liaison between a young registrar and the wife of the hospital’s senior pathologist. Their few brief months of happiness ended when Dr. Vaughn learned of the affair, and Fanny made the realistic choice to remain with her husband and adolescent son. In a confrontation between the two men, Vaughn knocked Haggard to the floor, causing a leg injury that resulted in chronic pain and permanent disability.

Haggard resigned from the hospital and withdrew to a solitary life, in which "Spike" (the name he gives to his deformed and painful leg) is his only companion. He must constantly "feed" Spike with intravenous morphine to quell the emotional, as well as physical, pain. The situation only worsens when Haggard learns of Fanny’s death from kidney failure.

The obsession worsens further still after James Vaughn shows up at his door. As Haggard treats the young pilot for a minor wound (he has become the local RAF surgeon), he notices that James has a feminized body habitus--gynecomastia, lack of body hair, broad hips, narrow shoulders, and pre-pubertal penis. He interprets this as "a pituitary disorder" and attempts to convince James that he needs treatment. James is repulsed by these advances, which eventually escalate.

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Four lonely individuals, marginalized misfits in their families/communities, each obsessed with a vision of his or her place in the world, collect about a single deaf-mute with whom they share their deepest secrets. An adolescent who desires to write symphonies, an itinerant drunk who believes he must organize poor laborers, a black physician whose desire is to motivate his people to demand their rightful place in American society, and a cafe owner whose secret wish is sexually ambiguous, believes that the deaf Mr. Singer understands and validates his or her obsession. Singer, ironically obsessed with a friendship of questionable reciprocity, commits suicide when the friend dies.

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The Shooting Party

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Apr-26-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Chekhov wrote The Shooting Party during his final year in medical school, and it was published serially in 32 weekly segments during 1884 to 1885. The book's plot is essentially a murder mystery, although in its depictions of setting and character the story anticipates Chekhov's mature style.

"The Shooting Party" is the name of a manuscript that an unknown author, who appears out of nowhere, begs a publisher to read and publish. The author agrees at least to read it, and the author says that he will return in three months for the verdict. The body of the book then is this mysterious manuscript, which is written as a first person narrative. Its narrator and central character is the author recounting his own experience. In a "Postscript" the publisher tells us what happened when the author's returned three months later.

The narrator is the local magistrate in a rural region. His good friend and drinking partner, Count Alexei, has an estate nearby. Count Alexei's bailiff, Urbenin, is a middle-aged widower with two children. Also living on the estate are Nikolai Efimych, an old retainer who has gone crazy, and his beautiful daughter Olga. During the first part of The Shooting Party we learn that Count Alexei is a drunk and a lecher; Urbenin is a decent, hard-working, and lonely man; and Olga is caught between her presumably "true" love of the narrator and her desire to advance in life by marrying Urbenin. However, after marrying the bailiff, she takes another step upward by leaving her husband for a live-in affair with the Count, meanwhile secretly protesting her love for the narrator.

The climax occurs during a hunting party in the woods, when Olga goes off by herself and is later found murdered. All the evidence leads to her husband as the culprit. When an unexpected witness who might be able to implicate a different killer appears, the witness himself is mysteriously murdered. At the end of the manuscript, Urbenin is convicted of murder and sent to prison. However, in the "Postscript" the publisher, who proves to be a far better detective than the narrator/magistrate, identifies the real killer from clues that he has observed in the manuscript.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s memoir is a reconstructed account of his father Charles’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia and Nathaniel’s inability or unwillingness to recognize his father’s need for help. After his father’s death, Nathaniel contacted many of the people who had known his father, both when he was a student and college professor and later when his illness forced him into mental hospitals, squalid apartments, and homeless living on the streets. Nathaniel’s search to understand his father after his death led him to interview the many health care workers, police, street people, restaurant staff, and others who knew Charles when he was very ill.

Charles was delusional, often hearing voices and talking to his mother, who had been dead for years. Typical of people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, Charles did not see himself as mentally ill. Therefore he did not like to take medications and would refuse treatments when he could, although his health care workers could see substantial changes for the better when he was on medication. He believed he was the victim of a mind control experiment, forced on him by his persecutors. He died out of touch with his family, having suffered almost twenty years on his own with his illness.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

The artist faces the viewer at a slight angle. He wears a bandage across his ear and under his chin, a purple and black winter cap upon his head, and a green overcoat with only the top button fastened. His sallow skin, in combination with the bandage, makes clear that the artist is unwell. In the background, upon a yellow wall, hangs one completed painting, vibrant and colorful, depicting a landscape and three women. Another painting that is only a sketch sits on a wooden easel to Van Gogh's right. A small section of a large window is visible on the right side of the painting.

Every color used to paint Van Gogh's person and clothing finds its pair in his surroundings: the purple of his hat couples with the window, his yellow skin couples with the wall, his overcoat and eyes pair with the landscape in the painting on the wall, and the white of his bandage complements the sketch behind him.

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An Old Man

Maupassant, Guy de

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Monsieur Daron, an eighty-six-year-old-man, comes to live at the new spa in Rondelis. He believes himself to be in excellent health, as a result of "careful living." He has always had "an obsessive fear of death," and he avoids all pleasure because it may be dangerous.

In order to measure and monitor his own condition, M. Daron arranges for the doctor in charge of the springs to visit him once a week with information on the health of everyone else in the surrounding area who is over the age of eighty. When he hears that someone has died, he quickly identifies a cause that might have been avoided; the man who died of pleurisy should not have gone out in the cold, and the one who died of dysentery must have eaten the wrong food.

Eventually, though, one old man dies for no apparent reason. The doctor can report no lesion, no disease: "He died because he died, that's all." M. Daron is horrified and asks the man's age. Eighty-nine. He laughs in relief, saying, "whatever it was, it wasn't old age . . . ."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This biography begins on April 20, 1995 when the ashes of Marie and Pierre Curie were transferred from their graves in a Paris suburb and re-interred in the Pantheon, thereby placing the Curies among the "immortals" of France. Thus, Marie became the first (and so far the only) woman to be honored in this way. Goldsmith's biography is a straightforward and well-written narrative that eschews hagiography, wordiness, and psychological interpretations.

The story of Marie Curie (1867-1934) is well known. Born into an intellectual but impoverished Polish family, she struggled to obtain a scientific education, first in Poland and then at the Sorbonne in Paris. While a graduate student, she met and married the young chemist Pierre Curie. Together, with essentially no funding and dismal laboratory space, they discovered and characterized radioactivity. Later, on her own Marie discovered and isolated two new elements, polonium and radium. Subsequently Marie and Pierre created the Curie Institute, where Marie was in the forefront in envisioning medical applications of radioactivity and radium.

The story is especially powerful in its depiction of bias against women in science. Marie had to fight for many years to obtain a faculty position at the Sorbonne (unheard of for a woman), or even space to conduct her experiments. When the Nobel Committee awarded its 1903 Prize in Physics, Pierre had to fight to have his wife included in the citation, even though the bulk of the brains and energy behind the discovery of radioactivity were clearly Marie's. Marie was later vindicated when she won her second (and solo) Nobel Prize in 1911 for the discovery of radium.

Obsessive Genius doesn't shy away from Marie Curie's recurrent clinical depressions, which began during her adolescence, nor from her obsessive, hard-driving personality. The book presents an even-handed picture of repeated conflict between her love of her husband and children (one of whom, Irene Joliet-Curie, in 1935 became the second woman scientist ever to win the Nobel Prize); and her passion for her work.

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Referred Pain

Schwartz, Lynne Sharon

Last Updated: Feb-03-2006
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Richard Koslowski, a 32-year-old computer systems supervisor and musician, breaks a tooth when he bites an olive pit. Although the remnant of the damaged tooth is removed during his initial visit to the dentist, Koslowski embarks on a peculiar quest. He longs to find a perfect-fitting dental bridge, to eliminate a mysterious oral pain, and to measure up to the suffering his parents have endured as survivors of concentration camps.

He eventually elicits opinions or treatment from ten different dentists and specialists. Koslowski realizes that he has sustained more than just a cracked tooth. His entire life is now fractured. Koslowski becomes obsessed with his teeth. His girlfriend, Lisa, is a law student who is passionate about women's rights. She travels to Bosnia to interview and assist rape victims. When Lisa returns, she breaks up with Koslowski. His suffering seems so small and his life so insignificant that she can no longer tolerate him.

Koslowski's father is dying of a brain tumor but remains stoic until the end. Koslowski, on the other hand, has a poor pain tolerance. After undergoing multiple dental procedures--tooth extraction, root canals, a series of gum cleanings every week, and finally dental implants--Koslowski ultimately resigns himself to living with the discomfort in his mouth. His "reward" is marriage to a disabled woman, three children, and an ordinary life filled with minor ailments and nuisances.

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The Year of Magical Thinking

Didion, Joan

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Joan Didion has written a very personal, powerful, and clear-eyed account of her husband's sudden and unexpected death as it occurred during the time their unconscious, hospitalized daughter was suffering from septic shock and pneumonia.

Quintana, the couple's 24-year-old adopted child, has been the object of their mutual care and worry. That John Gregory Dunne, husband and father, writer and sometime collaborator, should collapse from a massive, fatal coronary on the night before New Year's Eve at the small dinner table in their New York City apartment just after their visit with Quintana can be regarded as an unspeakable event, beyond ordinary understanding and expression. "Life changes fast . . . in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends" (3).

As overwhelming as these two separate catastrophes are, the account provided by Didion evokes extraordinary descriptions of the emotional and physical disorientations experienced by this very lucid, but simultaneously stunned and confused wife, mother, writer dealing with the shock of change. Her writing conveys universal grief and loss; she spins a sticky filament around the reader who cannot separate him or herself from the yearlong story of difficult, ongoing adjustment.

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