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Most of the twenty works in this anthology are first-person narrative essays. They represent a wide range of women’s experiences of embodiment, spanning both the average lifespan and the particularity of individual lives, focusing on puberty and menstruation, weight-consciousness and eating disorders, facial disfigurement, multiple sclerosis, infertility and pregnancy, cosmetic treatments and surgery, breast cancer, and aging. A few essays offer a valuable cross-cultural lens on the experience of embodiment.
Hanan al-Shaykh’s Inside a Moroccan Bath (see this database) explores her dual experiences of being stigmatized in Middle Eastern culture for her thinness, and then having her stigma recast as value when she moved to a European city. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s "The Story of My Body," which begins "I was born a white girl in Puerto Rico, but became a brown girl when I came to live in the United States," (299) offers another perspective on the cultural instability of the criteria for female beauty. Linda Hogan’s "Department of the Interior" positions her experience of embodiment within the intertwined contexts of American Indian culture and the physical landscape of the West.
Some of the contributors are well-known for their texts on embodiment ( Lucy Grealy, Nancy Mairs, and Naomi Wolf, for example), whereas others are well-known creative writers (Margaret Atwood and Linda Hogan). Pam Houston’s Out of Habit, I Start Apologizing is also annotated in this database.
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.
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.
Summary:James Lang was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1996, when he was twenty-six years old. Five years later, however, a particularly severe bout with Crohn's, including a hospital stay, dramatically changed his relationship to the disease. Lang's memoir explores his ongoing relationship to Crohn's disease, both in the context of medical reassessments and diagnostic adjustments and in relation to his personal and professional development in his first year as a tenure-track professor of college English.
Summary:Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.
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).
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.
The Island is a collection of three stories sharing a similar setting (Italy) and populated by several characters who are outcasts. In the title story, the relationship between residents of an island and its medieval monastery, the Certosa, decays over time. When a talented stonemason is accidentally injured, his damaged senses are replaced by pain and suffering. His struggle and sacrifice, however, ultimately result in redemption for all those who inhabit "The Island."
In the eighteenth century, a 20 year old leper is condemned to live the remainder of his life in a tower fittingly known as the Tower of Fright. Although befriended by a stranger, the occupant of "The Tower" must nevertheless endure solitude, and he does so with the patience and grace of a saint. With the backdrop of a plague, "The Second Coming" is a medieval tale that recounts the torture of a doubting priest, an unknown pilgrim’s participation in a miracle, and the death of a pope.
While riding on a commuter train, Bill Chalmers suddenly forgets who he is and where he is headed. His amnesia is accompanied first by a numbness of his hands and then later his legs. Eventually he is confined to a wheelchair and dependent on his family and a home nurse to care for him. Despite extensive testing and consultations with a variety of doctors, no one can make a definitive diagnosis of his illness.
Chalmers is subjected to many empirical treatments including antidepressants, steroids, plasmaphoresis, and psychotherapy, but his health continues to deteriorate and he loses his job. His wife and son become victims of his predicament. By the end of the story, Chalmers gains insight into his life and discovers that only his dignity still remains in his control.
Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.
Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.
As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.