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Chekhov. A Biography

Simmons, Ernest

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

A comprehensive and quite readable biography of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) by an eminent scholar of Russian literature. Five aspects of Chekhov’s life (as presented here) stand out as particularly interesting: First, the central importance to Chekhov of his self-image as a physician, even in the latter part of his career when he had given up the regular practice of medicine.

Second, the theme of philanthropy (especially in medical and educational areas) that runs through his entire life. For example, even while he was dying of tuberculosis himself, Chekhov was still actively involved in raising money to build a tuberculosis sanitarium at Yalta for poor writers. Third, the fascinating portrait of a person who was extremely compassionate and emotional, yet very reserved and reluctant to express his feelings to others, even to close friends.

Fourth, his long denial (even to himself, perhaps) that he suffered from tuberculosis, even though the diagnosis must have been medically obvious. For example, he began having episodes of coughing up blood as early as 1887 or 1888. Fifth, Chekhov’s fascinating decision to marry Olga Knipper (1901) at a time when he was already gravely ill and an invalid, after having shown no interest in matrimony (and a generally flippant attitude in his relationships with female friends) throughout his adult life.

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The Horseman on the Roof

Giono, Jean

Last Updated: Jul-03-1997
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Angelo Pardo, an idealistic young Piedmontese freedom fighter and cavalry officer, is living in exile in Provence and making his way to join his best friend in Manosque, when a cholera epidemic transforms the countryside, towns, and social structure of the region. By turns, he aids an altruistic doctor in futile attempts to save the dying, lives as a fugitive on the roofs of Manosque, helps a nun to dispose of the dead, and accompanies a beautiful young woman, Pauline, to her home near Gap. His adventures illustrate the transformations produced by an epidemic and the means taken for survival.

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A Litany in the Time of Plague

Nashe, Thomas

Last Updated: Jul-02-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Despite its provocative title, this lyric never refers directly to a plague or epidemic, unless both the inevitability and the social indifference of death could be deemed "plagues" in themselves.

The litany of the title is a catalogue of the inability to escape death--the rich, the beautiful, the strong, the witty-- have no extraordinary claim to immunity. Like the poet whose refrain reads, "I am sick, I must die. / Lord, have mercy on us, " the reader is encouraged to "welcome destiny," as he mounts to Heaven, his heritage.

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On My First Sonne

Jonson, Ben

Last Updated: Jul-02-1997
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Ben Jonson wrote this elegy after the death in 1603 of his eldest son, Benjamin, aged seven. The poet addresses the boy, bidding him farewell, and then seeks some meaning for his loss. Jonson blames himself, rhetorically at least, arguing that he hoped too much for his son, who was only on loan to him. Now that the seven years are up, the boy has had to be returned.

Jonson tries to argue that this is only fair and his presumptuous plans for the boy's future were the cause of his present sense of loss. He then questions his own grief: why lament the enviable state of death when the child has escaped suffering and the misery of aging? He cannot answer this question, simply saying "Rest in soft peace" and asking that the child, or perhaps the grave, record that his son was Jonson's "best piece of poetry," the creation of which he was most proud. He concludes by vowing that from now on he will be more careful with those he loves; he will be wary of liking and so needing them too much.

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Woyzeck

Buchner, Georg

Last Updated: Jun-19-1997

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Woyzeck is the all-purpose servant of a German Captain. The Captain considers him amoral and stupid, largely because Woyzeck is poor. Woyzeck also makes money by allowing the Doctor to experiment on him. He has eaten nothing but peas in order to prove some unstated scientific premise.

Woyzeck discovers his girlfriend, Marie, with whom he has had a son, having an affair with the drum major. He brings Marie to the side of a pond and slits her throat. After getting drunk, Woyzeck realizes that people are looking at him suspiciously and he returns to the pond and presumably drowns himself.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This lively biography is a work of love based on newspaper accounts and an abundance of local anecdotes about "Doc Susie," Susan Anderson, who received her M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1907, and who maintained a single-handed rural practice in the almost inaccessible heights of the Rockies from shortly after her training was completed to 1956. She lived to tell a great many stories about arduous and ill-equipped visits to out-of-the-way sites in lumber camps and makeshift farmhouses in several feet of snow through dangerous mountain passes.

After her death at the age of 90 in 1960 her survivors added their recollections to the body of lore. An authentic hero tale about what made it worth her while to withstand tuberculosis, unreliable transportation and supplies, impoverished patients, snow, and solitude, this book may remind readers of a quality of "gumption" that is one of the still admirable aspects of the American pioneer legacy.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1981 the author, a well-known 75 year old Swedish poet, suffered a heart attack and lay comatose for two months. He then began a prolonged period during which he gradually recovered all of his faculties. In the early stage of his recovery, Lundkvist experienced a series of strange and intense "waking dreams," which he describes in this memoir. Many were dreams of journeys to real or fantastic places: for example, a trip to a railroad station in Chicago where physicians surgically transformed white people into black people, or a visit to a strange planet where cows produced blue milk. Lundkvist's memories of these dreams are embedded in a series of imaginative meditations on aging, human nature, the meaning of life, and the inexorable passage of time.

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The Blindman's Song

Rilke, Rainer Maria

Last Updated: Jun-08-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem, written in German, appears in both German and English in this and other versions. Those who understand German may feel that something has been lost in translation, inevitable for rhyming poetry. Nevertheless the "endless outcry" of isolation and bitterness is well expressed. This blind man is totally unresigned to his condition; "every day I despair." He feels himself uniquely cursed. He mocks those who are sighted for believing that THEY might be special and he is contemptuous of any kindness shown him: no one can understand how he feels.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Several of these poems deal with pregnancy and childbirth. “The Womb Is the Body's Most Powerful Muscle” celebrates a woman's knowledge of her own body just before she gives birth. In “The Birthing Room” Krysl describes the pulse and atmosphere of a midwife-attended birth. “Midwife” is an ecstatic poem about the power and “connection” of midwifery. Other poems in this collection take an ironic, comic view of the human condition (“Feet,” “Skin”), or reflect on issues of human dignity in the health care setting (“Quadriplegic: the Bath,” “Burn Patient”).

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Plums and Ashes

Moolten, David

Last Updated: Jun-08-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

David Moolten's poems demonstrate the medical (and poetic) virtues of simplicity, clarity, skillful observation, and attention to meaningful detail. They reveal and transform the poet's experience--from "a brief Christmas display / Of bells and lights" when he feels the silence of his father's joy "as I pull out the Lionel / Strangled with tinsel . . . " ("Freight"), through a call from the rehabilitation hospital during which his shattered brother "cried like static into the phone" ("'Cuda"), to "The Night" in which the poet stares through the window of memory at his and his wife's younger selves and tries "to whisper in their ears / They don't know where they're going" as they "lean into each other / Like two hands shielding a small flame . . . . " Among the other particularly appealing poems in this collection are "Chemistry Set," Motorcycle Ward (see this database), "Voyeur," "1968," and "Omission."

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