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A Trip into the Blue

Berczeller, Richard

Last Updated: Oct-25-1996

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Berczeller was a Hungarian doctor who was forced into exile by the Nazi occupation. He traveled to Paris, to Morocco and finally got a medical license in the United States. A Trip Into the Blue is a collection of ten short stories about his experiences originally written for the New Yorker.

In "The Morphinist" he writes about the first time he was left in charge of the small hospital where he first practiced. A corpse was brought in that turned out to be alive. The man had tried to kill himself with morphine and Berczeller spent all night keeping the man awake and preventing him from trying to suicide again.

"Paternity" recounts an experience Berczeller had while setting up a practice in his rural hometown. His patients wanted more from him than simply medical expertise; he had to become a moral judge and counselor. In "Sodom and Gomorrah" he recounts how he almost became a film star instead of a doctor.

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Cousin Pons

Balzac, Honore de

Last Updated: Oct-25-1996

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sylvain Pons earns a meager living conducting at the ballet and giving private music lessons. He is very fond of fine food and fine art. Over the years, he has satisfied the latter craving by slowly accumulating pieces that now clutter the small apartment he shares with his friend Schmucke. Sylvain doesn’t know it, but the collection is worth a surprising amount of money. He satisfies his taste for fine food by frequently going to dinner at his cousin Marville’s house.

Marville’s wife dislikes having Sylvain at her table, for he is rustic and abrupt. He is finally kicked out completely when he tries to find a suitor for the Marville’s daughter, Cecile, and bungles the job. Shortly afterwards, Sylvain falls ill. His portress, Cibot, enters the rooms to nurse him, recognizes the value of his art collection and schemes to get it. She gets Remonencq, who runs a nearby pawn shop, and Elie Magus, a Jew with an eye for art, to help her.

The attack begins when Cibot convinces Schmucke to sell some of Sylvain’s paintings in order to pay for the doctor bills. The plot thickens as Sylvain’s doctor and an attorney get involved. The attorney goes to Madame de Marville and convinces her to fleece Sylvain or risk a smaller inheritance from Sylvain. Her husband regretfully agrees also.

Meanwhile, Sylvain has become suspicious of Cibot. He struggles out of his sick bed to find Magus studying the collectibles in his bedroom. The other rooms are empty. Sylvain realizes his friend Schmucke has been duped, and he plans a counter-attack. He writes a false will, leaving all his money to Cibot for her service at his final illness. He leaves it where she will see it. He then writes a second, true will that leaves his money to the crown on the condition that they grant Schmucke a lifetime annuity.

Sylvain then dies. Schmucke becomes the new target of the others’ greed. They nearly convince him to sign a paper forfeiting most of his inheritance, but when he realizes that the Marvilles are accusing him of having duped their cousin he falls ill and dies. The money passes on to the Marvilles. The attorney gets an important new job; the doctor gets a sinecure, and Magus gets the pictures. Even Cibot is rewarded; she gets an annuity and marries Remonencq after he kills her husband.

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Gunnar's Sword

Bly, Carol

Last Updated: Oct-25-1996
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Harriet White is an active, energetic 82 year old resident of the Lutheran Home. We follow her through a winter day: a birthday party for a staff member, the funeral of another resident, a visit from her son, and her daily visit to see her husband who had a severe stroke and lies, uncommunicative, in the hospital ward. Mrs. White's son asks her, as he has before, to come and live with him and his family. He also reveals that he has sold the family farm. She is devastated that he had not discussed it with her, but she puts up a good front, saying it was the only sensible thing to do.

Later, she decides to walk several miles to visit the old farm. She does so, and in the evening a search party from the Lutheran Home find her there. As they drive her back, she realizes that her status has changed: she is no longer a stalwart helper, but has turned into a difficult old woman who is liable to wonder away.

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A Girl's Story

Bambara, Toni Cade

Last Updated: Oct-25-1996
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

What occurs when a young woman begins to menstruate and has had no preparation for it by her mother or anyone else? Toni Cade Bambara's fictive account illustrates how a normal event in the female life cycle is transformed by an uninformed child into a terrifying event. Rae Ann, whose mother died years ago, has been raised by her strict grandmother, a woman not inclined to talk about matters relating to sex.

While such ignorance seems unlikely in today's television society, the poignant and compelling story provides a useful introduction to discussion about crucial questions associated with growth and development and family behavior. Especially strong is Bambara's graphic portrayal of the physicality of menstruation and how an unprepared adolescent might respond; every female reader winces with understanding for behavior that is both humorous and full of pathos.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A man and woman walk through a cancer ward in which the man points out, "Here in this row are wombs that have decayed . . ." In other rows are "breasts" and "this great mass of fat . . . . " He instructs his companion to feel "rosary of small soft knots" on one woman's chest. The patients are dying. There is little to be done. "Here the grave rises up about each bed." Yet, "sap prepares to flow. Earth calls."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Letters)

Summary:

This collection arranges Chekhov's letters into three periods, each introduced by a short biographical essay: 1885-1890, the years during which Chekhov established himself as a writer; 1890-1897, which begins with his trip to Sakhalin Island and includes the years he spent living at Melikhovo; and 1897-1904, the final years during which his health declined, he rose to prominence as a playwright, and he married Olga Knipper.

In her general introduction, Lillian Hellman writes, "Chekhov was a pleasant man, witty and wise and tolerant and kind, with nothing wishywashy in his kindness, nor self-righteous in his tolerance, and his wit was not ill-humored. He would have seen right through you, of course, as he did through everybody, but being seen through doesn't hurt too much if it's done with affection." This image of Chekhov radiates from the letters collected in this volume.

Most of the letters are written to family members and a few close friends and associates, especially Alexei Suvorin, the editor of "New Times," a leading St. Petersburg newspaper; Maxim Gorki, the famous writer; and, later, the actress, Olga Knipper. The topics include family matters and business affairs; comments on his own writing and that of others; and his travels, especially the adventurous trip across Siberia to the penal colonies on Sakhalin Island in 1890.

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Bedrock

Proulx, E. Annie

Last Updated: Oct-21-1996
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A widower, Perley, marries Maureen, a woman four years younger than his daughter. Not long after they are married, Maureen, in cahoots with her brother, begins to emotionally and physically abuse her husband, taking over his land and farm. Perley feels he "deserved what was happening" and cannot fight back. Finally, he does strike out at Maureen’s brother, leaves him unconscious in the kitchen and goes to spend the night in the hayloft. There, he thinks back to his first encounters with Maureen and her brother when they were children, reflecting on the abuse and poverty that dominated their lives and that led, ultimately, to the present crisis.

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Sun and Moon

Kenyon, Jane

Last Updated: Oct-21-1996
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker describes being hospitalized for depression, and then, in the end, her return home.

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The Sandy Hole

Kenyon, Jane

Last Updated: Oct-21-1996
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A four-line poem describing the burial of an infant and the reaction of other mourners to the grief-stricken father.

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In the Nursing Home

Kenyon, Jane

Last Updated: Oct-21-1996
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A very short poem, describing the increasingly circumscribed life of a dying woman in a nursing home, a woman who "is like a horse grazing / a hill pasture that someone makes / smaller by coming every night / to pull the fences in and in." The final lines are a moving plea for God to bring the woman to a gentle death.

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