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The Secret Garden

Burnett, Frances

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Protagonist Mary Lennox, "as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is nine years old when she wakes one morning in India to an empty house, forgotten by all in the chaos of a cholera epidemic that has killed her pretty young mother, British army captain father, and most of their servants. The novel charts Mary’s removal to England and her physical, psychological, and moral development on the Yorkshire estate of her widowed uncle Archibald Craven, a reputed "hunchback." As part of her own maturation, Mary catalyzes growth and healing in (and between) her mildly spinally disfigured uncle and his "invalid" son Colin.

The secret garden of the title is Mary’s aunt Lilias’s creation. It has been virtually abandoned since the accident that resulted in Colin’s premature birth and Lilias’s death. Colin himself, while overprotected by the servants, is ignored by his depressed father and hidden in the estate. Mary discovers and rehabilitates both the secret garden and her secret cousin with the help of the working-class Sowerby family, including the servant Martha, her brother Dickon (a boy in tune with nature), and their mother Susan. Archibald, travelling across Europe to escape his sadness, is called back to the garden by a dream of his dead wife and returns to find Colin healthy and walking.

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A Stone Woman

Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with the death of the protagonist’s beloved mother, with whom she lives. Ines, a dictionary researcher, is soon jolted from her grief by the excruciating pain of a “twisted and gangrenous gut” (112). After a hospital stay and emergency surgery, she returns home to recuperate from the physical trauma and revisit her mourning. On the day when she can remove the wound dressings, Ines discovers a surprising change in her body: it seems to be turning to stone. Her incision has become a “raised shape, like a starfish, like the whirling arms of a nebula in the heavens” that gradually spreads to the rest of her body, forming "ruddy veins" across her belly and "greenish-white crystals sprouting in her armpits" (119).

Ines assumes that this process is fatal and that she will "observe [death's] approach in a new fantastic form" (121). Deciding to write a record for those who will find her after her demise, she studies the names and nature of minerals in order to understand and describe her metamorphosis. From her new, mineralizing perspective, she realizes that stones can be dynamic and living as well as fixed and dead; minerals are memorials to the relationships and reciprocities between living creatures and dead ones.

Unable to write the record of her transformation, Ines finds herself passionate to be outdoors. She explores the city, looking for "a place to stand in the weather before she became immobile" (127). In an old graveyard, she meets and gradually forms a bond with Thorsteinn, an old Icelandic stonecutter who may also be mourning the death (apparently of a child). The Ines shares the secret of her metamorphosis with the stonecutter and eventually travels with him to his homeland, a geologically young country, where stones are alive and myths tell of “striding stone women.” Thorsteinn sketches here in this landscape and creates a standing stone image of Ines that reflects his ability to see her as she is and find her beautiful: "Petra faction saw that she existed, in there" (150).

Ines's metamorphosis culminates in her inability to see or speak as a human and her ability to perceive a whole new realm of living creatures, "earth bubbles and earth monsters" (151) and other stone people who are "flinging their great arms wide in invitation" (156). She joins their wild dance.

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The Good Soldier

Ford, Ford Madox

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham in a German health spa is the center of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles, and deaths. John Dowell, a memorably "unreliable" narrator, calls it "the saddest story I have ever heard" (7). His narrative distance stems partly from the pastness of the events, partly from his absence for some of them, but mostly from his ignorance or denial of realities as intimate as his wife's serial deceptions of him.

Heart disease is the central narrative trope, a literary device easily unpacked as a site of irony: Each of the two major characters who have a "heart" (i.e. heart condition) is faking it, in service of his/her serial "affairs du coeur." Florence fabricates her heart trouble before her marriage is ever consummated, using it to turn Dowell into a cardiac nurse and keep him out of her bedroom. Edward Ashburnham fakes his illness to escape his military post and take his latest love object (and his stoically Catholic wife) to Germany.

The extramarital romps occasioned by Dowell's solicitude for Florence's "heart" comprise the main gag of this novel's comic beginning. When the focus shifts to Edward, Leonora, and their ward Nancy Rufford, The Good Soldier becomes a tragedy of emotional sadism, sentimental martyrdom, madness, and moral exhaustion that leaves us unsure about who in this novel has a literal or figurative heart.

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Summary:

Diagnosed in 1985 with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, Susan Wendell's reflections address her struggle first with illness and then with the lasting "social and psycho-ethical" conflicts illness and disability generate in contemporary Western culture. Her specific focus on feminist theory comes from her increasing awareness that "knowledge people with disabilities have about living with bodily suffering and limitation and how their cultures treat rejected aspects of bodily life . . . did not inform theorizing about the body by non-disabled feminists and that feminist theory was consequently both incomplete and skewed toward healthy, non-disabled experience"(p.5).

A chapter on "Who is Disabled?" engages current definitions of disability, who produces them, for what purposes, and to what effect. This chapter addresses the cases of illness and aging and explores the political and other values of the category, "people with disabilities." Other chapters discuss the social construction of disability, disability and illness as stigmatized states that might be re-envisioned as "difference," the enculturation of myths about bodily control and independence, medical authority's inflection of embodiment, the importance of disability perspectives to feminist ethics, and perspectives on transcending the body.

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Metamorphosis

Updike, John

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The protagonist, Anderson, has a skin cancer growing dangerously close to one of his tear ducts. An aging "idler and playboy," he has spent too many years in the sun (67). Anderson consults and promptly becomes infatuated with his facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Kim, "who turned out to be a woman, a surprisingly young Korean-American who even in her baggy lab coat evinced considerable loveliness" (67). Anderson is fascinated with Dr. Kim's body, her visible pregnancy, her way of moving and speaking, and her face. He enjoys the "bliss of secure helplessness" of the surgery itself, performed by Dr. Kim and two female nurses who "rotate[]" around him conversing as they work (67).

While successful, the surgery leaves a small bump on his face that Anderson asks Dr. Kim to correct surgically. The second surgery achieved, Anderson returns a third time for the much more ambitious project of tucking his somewhat saggy eyelids. His goal, however, is not just to tighten slack skin but to make his lids look like Dr. Kim's, "with an epicanthus" (69). The six-hour surgery is both successful and satisfying to Anderson--until he sees a photo of Dr. Kim's husband.

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Summary:

When Mary Lennox (Margaret O’Brien)’s parents die in a cholera epidemic, she is sent from India to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Herbert Marshall) at Misslethwaite Manor, his large and lonely estate on the Yorkshire moors. A neglected, lonely, and disagreeable child, Mary changes through encounters with the gregarious maid Martha (Elsa Lanchester), an elderly gardener as irritable as she is, and Martha’s brother Dickon, a boy at home with nature who helps her rejuvenate the walled, neglected garden she finds on the estate.

Mary also unravels the mysteries associated with Misselthwaite Manor and her uncle’s family. A dramatically unhappy man, Lord Craven is a widower with a spinal deformity who fears he is losing his mind. He has locked the garden after his wife’s death, and similarly hidden away their son Colin, whom he thinks has inherited his bodily and psychiatric illnesses. When Mary discovers her cousin by following the sound of crying in the middle of the night, the two become friends. Whereas the domestic staff indulge Colin for fear of his temper, his reputed invalidism, and his father’s displeasure, Mary rebukes Colin, seeing her own former imperiousness in his bad behavior. She and Dickon bring Colin into the garden, where he grows strong and healthy, defying doctors’ orders and surprising his father—who has come home to sell the estate--by walking into his arms.

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Poor Miss Finch

Collins, Wilkie

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lucilla Finch, a young middle-class woman who has been blind since early childhood, falls in love with Oscar Dubourg. After a head injury, Oscar develops epilepsy, and then turns blue from the treatment. Lucilla harbors an irrational hatred of dark colors, including dark skin; thus Oscar has a strong desire to hide his blueness from Lucilla until after their marriage. When his twin brother comes to visit, Oscar tells Lucilla that Nugent is the blue man, a deception that backfires when Nugent--who has fallen in love with Lucilla himself--brings in Herr Grosse, an oculist who cures Lucilla's blindness.

Her first vision is of Nugent, who sabotages Oscar by assuming his identity and making it impossible for Oscar to reveal the truth. Oscar goes abroad, becoming a nurse, but returns in time to rescue Lucilla--who is blind again--from marrying Nugent. After the brothers reconcile, Lucilla and Oscar marry and have two children; Nugent freezes to death during an Arctic expedition.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Robert and Jinnie Salesby are an English couple staying at a French resort to restore Jinnie’s health. Rather than a dramatically delineated plot, the story is comprised of a series of moments in daily life, drawn with psychological precision and depth. Robert, whose point of view the narrator explores most of the time, is characterized through his frequent shifts in perspective--from the present, shaped by his wife’s illness, to their past experiences of health and joy. As the story traces the Salesbys’ daily regimen of meals, walks, and rest, Robert’s grief and hostility regarding his wife’s illness becomes ever clearer.

The hotel’s other inhabitants, who are mostly drawn as caricatures--the American woman who talks to her dog, for example, and the Honeymoon Couple, whose vigor and sexuality provide a foil to the Salesbys’ subdued relationship--call Robert an "ox" and observe his solitariness and lack of apparent emotion. The local children react to him as if he is a figure of sexualized threat. Jinnie’s perspective is revealed only through her self-effacing cheerfulness, her appreciation of her husband, and her plenitude of that "temperament" her husband seems without.

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North and South

Gaskell, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Margaret Hale is raised in fashionable Harley Street along with her cousin Edith, but when Edith marries, Margaret returns to Hampshire County in the South of England to live with her mother and her father, a country clergyman. The pastoral life she has imagined is quickly disrupted by her father's confession that he is no longer able to remain true to the Church of England and will leave his position to become a tutor of adult learners in the northern manufacturing town of Milton. The traumatic relocation is exacerbated by Mrs. Hale's diagnosis with a "deadly disease" (probably cancer) soon after the move.

Margaret takes charge of most of the practical aspects of the move and then assumes charge of her mother's illness, acting as an intermediary between the doctor and her parents. As well as learning more about her own family's servant, Dixon, who has been with her mother since her girlhood, Margaret becomes friendly with textile worker Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessy, who is dying of consumption (tuberculosis) from inhaling textile dust. The Milton workers' activism and independence appeal to Margaret; she rethinks both class and labor relations as a result, including charitable relationships. Her strong opinions and actions bring her into conflict with the family of John Thornton, a factory owner and self-made man who is also one of her father's students.

When Margaret shields John from a stone thrown by a striking worker, however, he avows his love for her. A series of obstacles to the relationship include Margaret's initial rebuff of John and her dishonesty about her exiled brother's secret return to his mother's deathbed. Before the ending brings John and Margaret back together--as well as calming the tension between workers and factory owners--Margaret experiences not only the deaths of almost everyone she loves, but also the suicide of one of the striking workers.

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Summary:

When Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly)’s parents die in an earthquake, she is sent from India to live with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (John Lynch) at Misslethwaite Manor, his large and lonely estate on the Yorkshire moors. A neglected, lonely, and disagreeable child, Mary changes through encounters with the gregarious maid Martha, an elderly gardener as irritable as she is, and Martha’s brother Dickon (Andrew Knott), a boy at home with nature who helps her rejuvenate a walled, neglected garden she finds on the estate.

Mary also unravels the mysteries associated with Misselthwaite Manor and her aunt and uncle’s family. A depressed widower with a spinal deformity, Lord Craven has locked the garden after his wife’s accidental death. Mary discovers the key to the garden in her aunt’s closed-up boudoir. She also finds her cousin Colin (Heydon Prowse), who has been hidden away because his father thinks he has inherited his bodily and psychiatric illnesses. Mary provokes Colin to leave his bedroom, join her and Dickon in caring for the garden, and finally to summon his father, via a quasi-pagan ritual around a bonfire in the garden, to return from Europe. Lord Craven returns to find his sickly son walking and healthy, and a new family consisting of Colin, Mary, and Lord Craven is formed.

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