Showing 71 - 80 of 3265 annotations

Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Victorians Undone is no ordinary history book.  If you have ever felt dissatisfied by a sterile biography, wondering if its subject actually possessed bodily functions, look no further.  Here, British historian Kathryn Hughes undoes centuries of sheltering the reader from the unseemly by putting it on full display.  While the very term “Victorian” evokes an image of propriety, it was also a time of population displacement from the country to cities where “other people’s sneezes, bums, elbows, smells, snores, farts and breathy whistles were, quite literally, in your face”  (p. xi). The author seeks to rectify the imbalance by creating a history that puts “mouths, bellies and beards back into the nineteenth century“ (p. xiv), which she hopes will “add something to our understanding of what it meant to be a human animal“ (p. xv) during the Victorian Era.  

The book consists of five essays, each following a part of the body of an historical figure. In the first, entitled “Lady Flora’s Belly,” we learn about the tragic saga of Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting.  Did Flora’s protuberant abdomen conceal a tumor or a baby?  It was harder to find out than one might think.  Most women went through their lives without ever exposing their private parts to anyone but their husband.   Medical consultation when unavoidable might be conducted discretely, by post. 
 

Other essays focus on George Eliot’s hands, Fanny Cornforth’s (the lover of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite painter) sensual mouth, and the beard that Charles Darwin’s grew to hide his eczema.  The book concludes with the gruesome tale of the dismemberment of Fanny Adams, an early case study in forensic pathology. The term "Fanny Adams" soon came, in navy slang, to mean unpleasant meat rations.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Weeks after the birth of her child, the writer receives a phone call informing her that her mother, who has gone missing, has hanged herself.  This memoir, like others written in the aftermath of similar trauma, is an effort to make some sense of the mother’s mental illness and horrifying death. Unlike many others, though, it is the story of a family system—and to some extent a medical system—bewildered by an illness that, even if it carried known diagnostic labels, was hard to treat effectively and meaningfully.  The short chapters alternate three kinds of narrative:  in some the writer addresses her mother; in some she recalls scenes from her own childhood, plagued by a range of symptoms and illness, and her gradual awareness of her gifted mother’s pathological imagination; in some she reproduces the transcript of a video production her mother narrated entitled “The Art of Misdiagnosis” about her own and her daughters’ medical histories. Threaded among memories of her early life are those of her very present life with a husband, older children, a new baby, a beloved sister and a father who has also suffered the effects of the mother’s psychosis at close range.  

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Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The Strand Magazine is a source for “unpublished works by literary masters.” The October-February (2017-2018) issue includes a Raymond Chandler short story that has never before been published. Chandler wrote crime fiction for the most part, and the stories usually involved the fictional detective Phillip Marlowe. This story, however, written between 1956 and 1958, centered on how American health care fails people who need it when they can’t pay for it or look like they can’t pay for it. 

In this story, a man who has been hit by a truck is brought into the emergency department at “General Hospital.” He arrives just before shift change and so the admitting clerk is already annoyed. The clerk checks the patient’s pockets for the required $50 deposit and finds nothing, so she could now send the patient to the county hospital, and that would be that. But, before she initiates the transfer, she asks a passing private attending physician to look at the patient. He sees that the patient is dirty, smells of alcohol, and would cost a lot to work up. Mindful of an admonition from a major donor that the “hospital is not run for charity,” the physician surmises the patient is “just drunk,” and agrees the patient should be moved to the county hospital. So off the patient goes.  

The next day, the same admitting clerk at General Hospital gets a call from the county hospital. She’s informed that the patient they transferred had a head injury requiring surgery, and that the patient had $4,000 in a money belt inside his undershirt. The patient couldn’t be saved, however, because of the delay involved in the transfer to the county hospital. It’s all right—he only died.



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One Crimson Thread

O’Siadhail, Micheal

Last Updated: Apr-19-2018
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

This collection of 150 sonnets takes us through the journey from the writer’s wife’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s, eventually complicated by dementia and overmedication, to her death and his early days of grieving.  Married for over 40 years and close companions, their successive separations deal new blows as they happen: She goes into skilled nursing care, gets lost in delusions, and becomes more frail and erratic, finally succumbs after a fall and a short period in a coma.  The writer draws on biblical metaphors and threads memories of their earlier life together in fleeting images so that the reader is left to infer from glimpses a rich and happy marriage that, he reflects, prepared them—but not enough—for this going.  

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Frankenstein in Baghdad

Saadawi, Ahmed

Last Updated: Apr-19-2018
Annotated by:
Galbo, Sebastian

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hadi, a junk dealer and storyteller of Baghdad’s Bataween neighborhood, scans the scene of a suicide car bombing. Hadi collects more than rubbish: amongst the smoke, dust, and the bloody debris of human bodies, he stoops to pluck the remnants of a nose from the wreckage, wraps it in a canvas sheet, and leaves the scene. Curating the remains of human bodies blasted asunder by suicide bombs, Hadi sutures bloody remnants to form a complete corpse, stowed away in his crumbling flat.

Necromania is far from the reason Hadi pursues his gory task: “I made it [the corpse] complete so that it wouldn’t be treated as trash, so it would be treated like other dead people and given a proper burial” (27). The nose from that day’s bombing was the crowning remnant that perfected the corpse. The corpse comes alive and exacts a series of perverse murders. It is rumored throughout the city that the mysterious corpse—or the “Whatsitsname” or “Criminal X,” as it is dubbed by the Iraqi Tracking and Pursuit Department—is a ruthless superhuman. Hadi’s Frankenstein stalks the streets of Baghdad to slaughter the murderer responsible for each limb comprising its body, justifying the killing spree as a “noble mission.” It realizes that, before it can destroy its final victims, the organs and limbs of its putrid body begin to rot.

Requiring new hands and eyeballs, the Baghdad Frankenstein must obliterate more people for fresh parts. The Whatsitsname realizes the corporeal conditions of his bloody mission: “My list of people to seek revenge grew longer as my body parts fell off and my assistants added parts from my new victims, until one night I realized that under these circumstances I would face an open-ended list of targets that would never end” (153). To survive, the corpse becomes entangled in an ever-widening web of killings.

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Every Note Played

Genova, Lisa

Last Updated: Apr-10-2018

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a dramatic and moving story about a concert pianist who, at 45 years of age, suddenly and inexplicably, has ALS, and also equally about his ex-wife Karina, who takes on his care throughout his slow, inevitable, and lethal decline. As many readers know, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). or “Lou Gherig’s disease,” hardens the motor nerves so that, progressively, there is no more control of muscles throughout the body. Not many readers know, however, the difficult path such patients and their families must pursue. This sensitive and detailed novel takes readers powerfully into the world of ALS, a disease for which there is today no cure.                                                                                      

Obsessed with his musical career and international travel, Richard has paid little attention to Karina and their daughter, Grace, and he has had affairs with other women. Karina has deceived him about her inability to bear more children. Because of their move from New York City to Boston, Karina, also a gifted pianist, has lost a possible career in jazz and now gives piano lessons to unpromising students. 

The first several chapters alternate between Richard and Karina. Although divorced from him, she brings him, now an ALS patient, back into the home they once shared. Various nurses, doctors, and other specialists try to explain the difficult future that includes certain loss of body functions, but Richard and Karina are slow to comprehend these. Despite their denial, they are forced to come to terms with Richard’s progressive decline and, finally, death.     
          
Richard loses the ability to use his hands, then his arms. He needs a special machine to breathe at night. Soon he has paid caregivers for parts of the day; these include a cheery and admirable man named Bill. No longer able to eat, Richard has a feeding tube. Later he needs a hospital bed. Also a Head Mouse to work his computer. Also an elaborate wheelchair. With unresolved issues in the past, Richard and Karina are emotionally apart—even with feelings of hate and rage—even while she cares for him.  

Karina’s walking partner Elise, a teacher, helps her stay sane. Karina travels to New Orleans with Elise and her class and finds her interest in jazz reawakened. No longer able to breathe even with assistance, should Richard go on to mechanical ventilation that will require 24-hour care at enormous expense? A choice is made. Richard dies, with various resolutions before and after his death.  

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The Dark Flood Rises

Drabble, Margaret

Last Updated: Apr-09-2018
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Fran, an aging but energetic expert on elder housing, drives around the English countryside visiting facilities and also friends and family.  She, herself, is not at all ready to go gentle into the good night so many others are facing.  But everywhere she encounters reminders of mortality--her son's fiancee suddenly dies; an old friend is dying a lingering death of cancer; others in her circle of family and friends are facing their own or others' mortality in various ways, including natural disasters like earthquake and flood.  The episodic story takes place in England and in the Canary Islands; the large cast of characters are linked by intersecting stories and by their mortality, of which they, and the reader, are recurrently reminded.    

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Farinelli and The King

van Kampen, Claire

Last Updated: Mar-21-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

Anyone walking through a theater district over the past several decades and even centuries ago would likely run into a mad king—Lear, Richard III, George III, Scar. As of 2015, there’s a new mad king to be found in theater districts—King Philippe of Spain in Farinelli and the King.  

The play opens with King Philippe of Spain sitting up in his bed talking to a goldfish swimming around in its bowl trying to avoid the hook at the end of the King’s little fishing pole: 


I was touched by the confidence with which you speak to me of your affairs; the cordiality of your offer to redress mine; the tender anxiety for my health—but I should tell you in the strictest confidence you understand…shh…here the body cares very little for the affairs of the mind. (Act 1, Scene 1)   

As the King’s mental illness progresses from this point and becomes a concern of his court, his wife, Queen Isabella is sent away so that the King cannot physically harm her as he had before. But, what’s to be done for him? It’s the year 1737. While attending an opera in London, the Queen thinks she may have discovered just what the King needs—the renowned castrato Farinelli: 


Then…he began. A long note, held; I must think it was beyond a minute. A swooping, soaring sound and the notes were above the tree-tops, bird-like, unimaginable. When the aria finished just now I couldn’t help my tears; I was unable to move; I just stared at the stage, where he had been…I couldn’t believe what I had seen and heard…I felt something had profoundly changed within me. …and then, —I knew…That I must hope somehow to bring Farinelli to Spain with me. (Act 1, Scene 3)    


The Queen finds a way to bring Farinelli back to Spain, and Farinelli begins to sooth the mad King with his voice from the heavens. The King becomes calmer yet when he moves with the Queen and Farinelli to a house in the forest, where he cuts a hole in the trees so he can hear the “hidden notes” of the spheres above. The King tells Farinelli, “you must sing to me; in the long hours of dark, when my mind is screaming in the silence, then that is when I need you to sing to me.” (Act 2, Scene 5)  

The Queen was sure Farinelli’s singing was effective:

And they say it was Farinelli that helped to restore the health of the King of Spain—just by hearing this wonderful singing voice the King rose out of his depression and wanted to live again! It was the only thing the King could bear in the end. The sound of Farinelli’s voice. (Act 2, Scene 5)  

In Farinelli’s own and immodest assessment: “He is decidedly better because of me, and in his lonely life I have become a song he now depends on.” (Act 2, Scene 1) And, in making his clinical assessment, the King’s doctor was “of the opinion that the King’s illness has turned." (Act 1, Scene 4)  

The utopian existence comes to an end when the King is called back to Madrid to take on an impending English invasion. He would not be seen again.  

This fanciful tale is not so fanciful; it’s drawn from the historical King Philippe of Spain. His grandfather, King Louis XIV of France placed him there, and there he reigned for almost 50 years. Indeed he was mad, and indeed his wife the Queen brought the renowned castrato Farinelli back to Spain where he served the King for 9 years and then the son who succeeded him until this son’s death. From there Farinelli retired to the Italian countryside instead of returning to the public stages in Europe.  

The current NY production  could not replicate Farinelli’s voice exactly now that castrati are not to be found anymore; however, a countertenor was able to produce a swooping and soaring sound. Though Farinelli’s voice could not be replicated perfectly, the staging of the play was replicated as the audience of the day would have seen it in the mid 1700s. The lighting was supplied by candlelight from chandeliers and sconces that were part of the sets. The musicians supporting Farinelli’s performances were also situated on the stage with him. And, as the theaters were arranged then, seats for the audience were available on both sides of the stage. 

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Annotated by:
Galbo, Sebastian

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

From the late 18th to mid-19th centuries a peculiar trend swept through European fashion. Through couture and cosmetics, this vogue emulated the physical ravages of a much-feared disease, tuberculosis, aestheticizing its symptoms as enviable qualities of physical beauty. Pale skin, stooped posture, white teeth, an emaciated figure, and a white complexion that evinced delicate blue veins were lauded by the era’s posh fashion journals. Carolyn A. Day aptly terms this craze a “tubercular moment,” a cultural phenomenon that elevated the grim realities of physical illness to a plane of desirable beauty. Medical discourses promoting the fragility and refinement of the “sensible” body were inspired by romanticized notions of morbidity, suffering, and illness. These discourses coincided with the the ideologies of Romanticism, a philosophical movement that was popularly understood to be a counter-discourse to the Enlightenment through its emphasis on emotion and imagination. Day cites the English poet, John Keats, whose legacy emphatically contributed to the cult of sensibility, as he embodied a living example of the refined tubercular body endowed with artistic genius but doomed to illness. The male artist was an example of a body too sensitive, too delicate to endure earthly life, but one whose intellect left an indelible imprint on culture.  

The romanticized construction of tuberculosis, however, waned in the 1830s and 1840s due to dominant Victorian views that emphasized the inherent biological weakness of the female body. This shift in rationalizing consumption was the direct result of understanding women as burdened with a surfeit of sensibility. By contrast, consumption was understood differently to be an emasculating illness that denoted male weakness and was therefore no longer popularly considered to be a portent of gifted creativity. During this period, a number of women’s fashions dictated the tastes of the middle and upper classes. Corsets, cosmetics, and the gossamer neoclassical style of dress were used to emulate the frail frames, drooping postures, narrow torsos, and pale complexions of the consumptive body. Thin fabrics, sandals, and hair pieces also contributed to styling the ‘gorgeously’ spectral image of the tubercular body. Dresses were contrived to feature the bony wing-like shoulder blades of the consumptive back, emphasizing an emaciated frame. Physicians and cultural pundits condemned the trappings of this fashionable dress because they were thought to impose health risks. Tight corsets, for example, were considered to harmfully compress the lungs, while diaphanous dresses and sandals exposed women to cold weather. Despite the stentorian warnings of physicians, the tubercular wardrobe continued to house articles that were thought to excite tuberculosis.  


By the 1850s, public health and sanitary reforms reshaped cultural discourses that associated tuberculosis with beauty. Tuberculosis was gradually viewed as a pernicious biological force that needed to be controlled. As a result, the Victorian model of womanhood—the weak and susceptible female body—gave way to a model of health and strength. Literature, as Day points out, contributed significantly to altering the consumptive chic discourse and the link between tuberculosis and ideal femininity. She references Alexandre Dumas fils, whose influential novel, La Dame aux Camélias, presents redemption for moral transgressions through tubercular suffering. Through popular literature, tuberculosis was gradually supplanted from the sphere of upper-class women and placed in association with ‘fallen’ women, an unsavory association that led the genteel public to change perspective. Literary influence was important, but the increased visibility of consumption in the lower classes was likely the most visceral reality that forced upper classes to distance themselves from fashions that beautified the illness.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1869 in the remote northern Scottish village of Culduie, teenager Roderick (Roddy) Macrae brutally murders his neighbor, Lachlan “Broad’ Mackenzie, and two others. He readily admits to his crime, motivated, he says, by a desire to end the dreadful vendetta that Broad waged against his widowed father. The sympathetic defence lawyer, Andrew Simpson, urges him to write an account of the events leading up to the tragedy.  

Roddy agrees. In a surprisingly articulate essay, the young crofter describes his motive, originating with his birth and escalating through the lad’s mercy killing of an injured sheep belonging to Broad (interpreted as wanton), Broad’s sexual torment of his sister and mother, and his abuse of power as a constable that strips the family of land, crops, and finally their home.  

Given Roddy’s passivity, intelligence, and previously clean record, Simpson prepares a defence of temporary insanity and brings two physicians to assess his client, one a purported expert in the new field of medical criminology.  
 

The jury trial proceeds with an almost verbatim transcript derived from newspaper sources. The reader is able to juxtapose Roderick’s account with that presented in court. To report the outcome here would reveal too much.

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