Showing 171 - 180 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn
Martin Nanther is a member of the British House of Lords, having inherited his title from his great-grandfather, Henry. Physician to Queen Victoria, Henry specialized in hemophilia, the disease that Her Majesty was known to have passed to her son, Leopold, and other descendants. While the House of Lords considers a Bill to abolish hereditary peerage and Martin's much younger, second wife is obsessed with becoming pregnant, he escapes into his slow research for a biography of Henry
His patient genealogical investigations uncover deaths in infancy of several young boys in his own family, and Martin soon realizes that hemophilia (rather than the family's legendary tuberculosis) is the cause. Was that irony merely a coincidence? Or was hemophilia in his own lineage the impetus for his grandfather's research and position in life? And why was the disease hushed? Was it possible that his grandfather deliberately sought a bride with the trait in order to investigate it in his own progeny?
Martin soon finds himself wondering if this well-respected, medical man actually committed murder, or was he merely waylaid by unexpected love? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the answers prove so surprising and so disturbing, that Martin decides to abandon the biography of his ancestor, even as he learns that his inherited peerage has been revoked and that his next child will soon be born.
Deserted by her husband, who teaches in a bucolic, private school for the visually impaired, Candida is a 50-ish, unemployed woman, estranged from her three daughters, at least two of whom blame her for the failure of her marriage. To the astonishment of everyone in her sphere, she embarks on a completely new, though modest life in a tiny, walkup flat in one of London's immigrant communities. Her consciously passive efforts to find new friends and discard old ones leads her to keep a diary, to take a night course on Virgil, and improbably--when the night school closes--to join the Health club that replaces it.
Eventually, she assembles six new friends--the seven sisters--for an Aeneas-like journey from Carthage to Rome, with plans to consult the Cumean Sybil en route. Illness draws her closer to her middle daughter, Ellen, whose own perspectives on her parents' marriage contrast with those of her mother. Illness also forces an abrupt end to the travels. Candida wrestles with the issues of survival, suicide, and the meaning of life for an aging woman in an aging body whose entire purpose had once been helpmeet and mother. Can any other purpose be found?
Ten "forms of devotion" are described briefly in one or two pages of accessible, everyday prose: Faith, Memory, Knowledge, Innocence, Strength, Imagination, Prayer, Abundance, Wisdom, Hope. Each is illustrated with an engraving of an allegorical image with Latin and gothic German text. In the first mini-essay, the narrator contends that "the faithful are everywhere." She demonstrates that faith in a future and in immortal continuity is the driving force, not only for religious folk, but for anyone who goes to school, gets up each day, drives to work, embarks on a journey, takes a pill.
The following mini-essays show how each of the forms of devotion are wielded by "the faithful" to carry on valiantly confronting the challenges of ordinary existence. Faith and Hope together beget power. By the end, the reader senses a certain irony--as if the writer is not a member of the faithful. She may acknowledge and sometimes envy their resolute success, but does she share it? Perhaps not, and we are left wondering if she even admires it.
What appear to be early-twentieth-century anatomical engravings of various body parts--eye, tongue, spine, breast, legs, foot, genitalia--accompany a male narrator's thoughts about his wife and their relationship. He describes the "good days" and "bad days" in their mundane life. He suspects that she may be having an affair and wonders if he should have one too. Her disturbing restlessness is felt "in [his] bones," but he avoids confronting it, hoping that they will continue happy.
A woman describes the male body, beginning with the torso--neck, chest, belly, genitals--then the appendages, the back, and finally the head. Her description features the appearance and uses of these anatomical parts from the perspective of female taste and needs. The essay is illustrated with strategically placed images of the human form in exotic settings, taken from Bernard Siegfried Albinus's remarkable treatise of anatomy of the mid-eighteenth century.
The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.
One April day, a middle-aged writer, who was raised a Protestant but is not religious, is surprised to find a stranger, wearing a plain raincoat, in her home. The intruder says that she is Mary, mother of God, and something in her direct simplicity announces the truth of her claim. May will be the busiest of Mary's year, and she is tired; she asks to stay for a week to rest. Over lunch of soup and sandwiches, the two women establish an arrangement that Mary will stay and that if her host chooses to write about the visit, she will call it a work of fiction.
As Mary quietly goes about a banal existence--shopping, napping, doing laundry, using the toilet--the writer embarks on an investigation of Marian history--contrasting the relatively few biblical references to the mother of Jesus with her enormous fame and heavy responsibilities over two thousand years. Why has Mary been venerated? How can she cope with the thousands of prayers sent to her each day? Can transcendence reside in the mundane tasks of female life?
By the time her guest leaves, the writer is not converted but she comes to the conclusion that faith includes the acceptance of uncertainty, and that writing is an act of faith.
Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.
Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.
The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.
Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.
The narrator, Rick, is let out of rehab to live with his older brother, Philip, who is a doctor in Detroit. He will work at a mundane job in Philip's lab. The awkwardness of their encounter slowly evaporates and Rick begins to enjoy life with his family, especially his two young nephews. But he is concerned about Philip's weary appearance, so reminiscent of their father.
It emerges, quickly and to Rick's surprise, that Philip runs an abortion clinic. The clinic is subject to constant harassment by a persistent group of religious, "right-to-lifers," who taunt the doctors, the workers, the patients, and their families at home. Rick struggles to control--even avoid--his feelings; and he tries (unsuccessfully) to suppress the desire to befriend patients.
Eventually, he is reconciled to his new task through an unwelcome fixation on one patient. But angry urges to protect her and his brother well up. After weeks of pent-up rage and fear, he hides a gun, loses control, and begins shooting aggressive protestors. The murder is "nothing"; it's "just like killing babies."
The new interns, Roy Basch (Tim Matheson), Chuck (Howard Rollins, Jr.) and Wayne Potts (Michael Sacks), begin their year of internal medicine training in a busy city hospital under construction. After initial introductions led by the vague staff man and vapid chief resident, they become the specific charges of the cynical resident doctor "Fats" (Charles Haid). Fats teaches them attitude and language: how to "buff" (improve) and "turf" (transfer) "gomers" (Get Out of My Emergency Room)--the words used to describe management of incurable, hateful patients who "never die," regardless of the abuse the clumsy housestaff might inflict. But Fats has heart.
Soon, they fall under the command of the militaristic and lonely woman resident, Jo Miller (Lisa Pelikan), who cannot bring herself to withhold treatment, even at a patient's request. She blames underlings for the failings of medicine and nature, as well as herself.
Wayne throws himself from the hospital roof because of a misplaced sense of guilt over a patient's demise. Roy falls in love with the nurse, Molly (Kathryn Dowling), but nearly loses her as he begins to emulate Jo's cold, calculating style. He is "rescued" in the nick of time by his friends, Fats, and the death of a physician patient (Ossie Davis) whom he admires. With recovered equanimity and renewed anger over the suicide of his fellow intern, Roy refuses to go on with his residency.