Showing 41 - 50 of 55 annotations in the genre "Autobiography"

Janet Frame: Autobiography

Frame, Janet

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This autobiography by Janet Frame, a preeminent New Zealand writer, was originally published in three volumes in 1982, 1984, and 1985. The first volume is titled To the Is-land. In it the author tells the story of her early life "with its mixture of fact and truths and memories of truths." She describes her mother as a rememberer and a talker, partly exiled from her family through a marriage outside the family's faith and her father as having a strong sense of formal behavior that did not allow him the luxury of reminiscence. Her siblings (4 sisters and 1 brother) are described in equally perceptive language. The brother suffered from epilepsy which was poorly controlled and this had a strong influence on family dynamics.

Frame's writing is so descriptive and personal that it is easy to envision oneself as a family member. She was very early attracted to words and became a voracious reader. The family was poor and moved often but there was a firm family kinship. One older and one younger sister drowned when swimming which had a large impact and drew Janet much closer to the remaining younger sister. Janet was a good student and won many prizes; she writes that she "identified most easily with the stoical, solitary heroine suffering in silence."

The second volume, An Angel at My Table, concerns itself with Janet's experience as a student at Dunedin (Teacher)Training College and her subsequent breakdown and commitment to mental institutions. She was very lonely in college and retreated more and more into her own world of literature. At the end of her year of probationary teaching she walked out of the room during the visit of the school's inspector and disappeared.

After a suicide attempt she was eventually committed to Seacliff, a mental hospital. Her stay there, she writes, and later in another facility which eventually lasted most of seven years, was in a world she'd never known among people whose existences she never thought possible. She describes it as an intensive course in the horrors of insanity. She received multiple electric shock treatments and was scheduled for a lobotomy when it was learned that she had won a prestigious award for a book she had written.

Frame was discharged on probation and lived for a while in a small cottage owned by a well known writer who befriended her. After her book of prose and poems was accepted for publication she was awarded a grant that allowed her to travel abroad.

The third volume, The Envoy from Mirror City, is quite mystical and concerns itself with her life as a writer in England, Spain, and New Zealand after her return. She describes Mirror City as the saving world which sustains writers. She has continued writing and eventually learned that the diagnosis of schizophrenia, with which she had been burdened, was incorrect. With some life experience and wise psychotherapy she was able to write about her life in the mental institutions, among other things.

In all she has published eleven novels, four collections of short stories, a volume of poetry and a children's book.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This brief autobiography, written when Schweitzer was mid-50's, summarizes his life and thought up to 1931. He presents illustrative factoids and incidents from his childhood and student years, then briskly covers his development as a minister, philosopher, biblical scholar, musician, and musicologist, all before he reaches Chapter 9 (p. 102), which is entitled, "I Resolve to Become a Jungle Doctor." He greatly enjoyed his life as a scholar, yet was plagued by "the thought that I must not accept this happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in return for it." (p. 103)

He was particularly struck by the fact that so many people in the world were "denied that happiness by their material circumstances or their health." At around this time (1904), Schweitzer came across a publication of the Paris Missionary Society, which described the needs of their Congo mission. This article changed his life. In 1905, at the age of 30, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Strasburg. (Thus, Schweitzer became a forerunner of today's nontraditional applicants who leave other promising careers to enter medicine.)

Schweitzer and his wife began their work at Lambaréné in Gabon, West Africa, in 1913. As a result of the Great War in late 1917, they were sent back to France and detained as enemy aliens until mid-1918. They returned to Lambaréné and rebuilt the hospital in 1924. Between then and 1931 when Out of My Life and Thought was written, Schweitzer devoted most of his time (as he would for the rest of his life) to doctoring at his hospital in Gabon.

This memoir also includes brief intellectual asides describing many of Schweitzer's famous works, such as The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), J. S. Bach (1908), On the Edge of the Primeval Forest (1920), Philosophy of Civilization (1923), and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930).

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This book is the very personal story of one woman's struggle against a debilitating mental illness, which fortunately she was helped to overcome in time to allow her to complete her medical education and become a practicing physician. She says that the material was recalled partly from a diary kept during the time of original events, from memories of others, and from medical records.

The first chapter describes the author as a medical student assigned to a psychiatric service; subsequent chapters go back to the beginning of her personally perceived problems at age six, concluding with her amazing recovery after being treated with dialysis and her eventual acceptance to and success in completing medical school.

Dr. North's descriptions of her own perceptions of the sensations she experienced, the voices which talked to her and her remarkable persistence in school despite this are mesmerizing. Also, her description of treatment by physicians and care in mental institutions is very instructive. Her description of family relationships is intrinsic to the telling of her story. This book describes the anguish of mental illness from the inside.

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The Mind is Not the Heart

Salber, Eva

Last Updated: Feb-07-2000
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In this extensive review of her experiences in public health and rural and urban medicine, Eva Salber, MD, explores the commonalities and the differences in medical practice among three environments: pre-World War II South Africa, urban America, and the hills of North Carolina. Trained in South Africa, where she and her husband practiced for many years, Salber came to the US during a very difficult political period for whites in Cape Town.

In Boston, she pursued her passion for the plight of the poor and their health issues by studying further public health and running a ghetto clinic. Later, as a member of the Duke University faculty, she established rural health clinics in North Carolina. She describes, in this memoir, the contrasts among the cultures as well as her own difficulty in obtaining the funding and support she needed to carry out her work in each setting.

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Snapshots

Martin, Kimbra

Last Updated: Jan-28-2000
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In short chapters that alternate between remembered scenes of abuse, reflections upon those scenes, and tributes to the natural beauties and human kindnesses that tempered years of domestic violence, the author provides a galling, but not sensationalistic, record of what child abuse looks and feels like. Only when she was older and mostly beyond the reach of a father who routinely beat and sexually abused her and her siblings did the author find out that her father had been dismissed from a police force for gratuitous violence and had subsequently submitted to electroshock treatments for mental illness.

The title describes the nature of the narrative; in its deliberate discontinuities it testifies to the stated fact that there are places where memory has left a blank. Much of the telling is an attempt to piece together a story of recurrent violence, felt danger, and arbitrary rage that seemed at the time both regular and unpredictable.

The sanity of the narrative testifies to the possibility of healing. The writer makes no large claims for final or complete release from the effects of trauma, but does strongly testify to the possibility of a loving, happy, functional adult life as healing continues.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The story covers the months from early diagnosis of a retinal disorder through stages of treatment and loss of vision to a six-month stay at a residential facility to train the newly blind in life skills, including Braille. Sally Hobart was a 24-year-old elementary school teacher when she began suddenly and rapidly to lose her vision.

In the months that followed, she went through several surgeries and other treatments that are sometimes successful in restoring vision, but all efforts failed. She was left with very cloudy partial vision--only enough to distinguish colors, light and dark in the lower half of the vision field.

She tells about the fear, the frustrations of partial information and false hope, the tension between herself and her fiancé (they finally called off the engagement), the support (and also confusion and pain) of friends and family, and the emotional adaptation to a whole new life while learning to become independent as a blind person.

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A Poet in the Family

Abse, Dannie

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This short, anecdotal autobiography begins with the author's birth in Cardiff in 1923 and ends in the mid-1960's when the author had become a successful writer and physician in London. Much of the story concerns Abse's childhood and youth. The theme is self-definition: how did it come about that, like Anton P. Chekhov, the young Dannie Abse chose to devote his life to "chasing two hares" (medicine and writing).

His lower middle-class Jewish parents, especially his father, found no redeeming social value in having a poet in the family. Influenced by his older brother Wilfred (who became a psychoanalyst), Dannie gravitated toward medicine as a career, although he almost fainted when he observed his first surgery.

When Dannie was a student in London, poetry energized his life. He published "After Every Green Thing," his first volume of poetry, while still in medical training (1949). He also met Joan, his future wife, in 1949 and they were married in 1951.

He was assigned to reading chest x-rays while serving his time in the Royal Air Force. Subsequently, Dannie took a part-time job as a civilian in the RAF chest clinic in London and began his dual career as chest physician and writer. Near the end of A Poet in the Family, Dannie describes the death of his father in Llandough Hospital in 1964.

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A Likely Story

Mahoney, Rosemary

Last Updated: Feb-26-1999
Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In 1978, seventeen-year-old Rosemary Mahoney spent her summer as housekeeper for author Lillian Hellman. A great admirer of Hellman's life and writing, Mahoney had applied directly to Hellman for the job, and could hardly believe her good luck in being hired. By the end of her first week of work, however, her mother had to talk her into staying.

Hellman, in her early seventies, was demanding, exacting, infuriating--and frail, nearly blind, forgetful, and lame. As Mahoney tells Hellman's story, she also tells her own, the daughter of a physician father who committed suicide when Mahoney was a child and a schoolteacher mother who was crippled by polio and is an alcoholic.

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Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author describes her experience of growing up with hearing loss. In this excerpt, she describes herself as a six year old orphan who is being raised by two aunts. Young Frances tries to hide her hearing loss from her aunts because she is afraid they will recognize that she is inferior or useless and get rid of her. She invents an invisible friend who chooses to hear what he wants to and who doesn't feel ashamed of this disability.

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A Very Easy Death

Beauvoir, Simone de

Last Updated: Dec-18-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

A retrospective and reflective review of the last weeks in the life of the author's aging mother. Threaded throughout the chronicle of the progressive downhill course of the patient dying of cancer are flashbacks to the earlier relationships among the author, her sister, and their mother. The course of the illness enables the reader to view many of the common problems that inform the doctor-patient, nurse-patient, and parent-child relationship. The narrator, who is an accomplished writer, creates vivid and timely images of the hospital as experienced by the lay person.

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