Showing 91 - 100 of 610 annotations tagged with the keyword "Sexuality"

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Oscar, the narrator of this fresh fictional gem, is ten years old. Because his form of leukemia has not responded to treatment, he has been living in a French hospital for a very long time. His parents, who bring him gifts and surely love him, are uncomfortable during their infrequent visits. Dr. Dusseldorf and the nurses are kind, but indirect and distant in their communications with him. Because no one talks to him about his illness or what is likely to happen, he feels isolated, alone, and miserable.

When Mamie-Rose, a very elderly hospital "pink lady" (hospital volunteer) with an exotic past, enters Oscar's life, she brings honesty, warmth, and comfort to the lost child known as Bald Egg. Guided by this incredible person--a blunt-spoken, irreverent woman who touches him, kisses him, and tells him wondrous stories of her wrestling feats--the boy grows stronger. Who wouldn't under the influence of the Strangler of Languedoc?

Of course Oscar is going to die. In addition to her generous companionship and her introductions of him to other children in the hospital, Mamie-Rose suggests letters to God as a way of feeling less lonely. "So God, on the occasion of this first letter I've shown you a little of what my life in the hospital is like here, where they now see me as an obstacle to medicine, and I'd like to ask you for clarification on one point: Am I going to get better? Just answer yes or no. It's not very complicated. Yes or no. All you have to do is cross out the wrong answer. More tomorrow, kisses. P.S. I don't have your address: what do I do" (65).

With Mamie-Rose treating him like a real kid, "move your but . . . we're not ambling along like snails" and Oscar scripting very candid letters to God, the first-person story about loneliness, love, and compassion is presented with spirited imagination. Oscar's story is quite extraordinary--and unforgettable.

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Leaning Together in the Storm

Smith, Larry

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Summary: This very welcome poem concerns "twelve older men in shirt sleeves," a group of men with prostate cancer. The narrator, one of the men in this "private brotherhood" suggests the difficulty and reluctance of many men to recognize out-loud their mutual circumstances: "Ever notice how no one parks / in the Cancer Center zone." This line sets the tone; the men are vulnerable and afraid. From time to time they gather for support from one another and from the meeting's scheduled speaker. The reader has little difficulty imagining the collective angst and the grasping of hope shared by the participants leaning together in their mutual storm.

Any expectation of supportive discourse is shattered by this evening's guest speaker, a careless surgeon, who strides confidently into the room with his tray of slides. The remainder of the poem demonstrates a worst-case scenario:

I interrupt his gay delivery,
"What about orgasm...?"
"Forget orgasm," he grins,
"You don't have a prostate."

Some smile nervously and bravely ask questions that really matter. Each time the physician exhibits his caustic brand of insensitivity. The narrator, surely expressing the feelings of his colleagues, wants only to "drive / this witch doctor from the room."

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Richard (Kenneth Branagh) is assigned alternative service as a consequence of a misdemeanor. A social worker connects him with the mother of a young woman, Jane (Helena Bonham Carter), who is suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Feeling reluctant and unequipped for such responsibility, he starts taking her on tame outings suggested by her mother. Initially she is hostile and resistant; gradually he gives way to her insistence on unpermitted activities: he takes her on a carnival ride, drives her around in his jeep, makes her dinner at his shabby rural cottage, about all of which the mother remains clueless.

Jane acknowledges that he is the only one who treats her like an adult. In a rare moment of vulnerability, she asks him to help her lose her virginity, not necessarily to "do the awful deed" himself, but to help her hire or find someone who will give her an experience of sex before she gets to the point where it’s impossible. He refuses, she won’t see him, and for a time her mother tries to find another caregiver--a hopeless failure--a woman who talks down to her.

Richard attempts other community service and runs into comic difficulties attempting to help old women, clean toilets, and finally retreats to his outpost where he is building a plane out of scrap metal and junk in a barn. He’s insolvent, but determined to carry through his project, if only, like the Wright brothers, to keep it aloft for 12 seconds. His landlord announces that he’s selling the place and Richard and his airplane will have to clear out within a month. This impels him to try his biplane.

In the meantime, Jane searches internet dating agencies, advertising herself as a "hideously crippled woman" seeking sex, but gives it up. Missing her, Richard finally comes to her home and consents to take her to "get shagged" if she won’t blame him for any of the consequences. They go to London and seek agencies for the disabled that are willing to help her experience sex. The only positive response she encounters is at a nightclub specially for the disabled. She’s horrified.

They go upscale, to a hotel where "gigolos" might be available. Richard hilariously serves as her go-between. He finds one who, alas, charges 2000 pounds. Finally she says, "Okay, then, you’ll have to do it, Richard." This brings him to acknowledge that he’s "a cripple," meaning that he’s been impotent for some time. Instead of offering her himself, he offers to rob a bank. He doesn’t, however, go through with the robbery, but returns to take Jane home with him where she remains as she’s dying.

Ultimately, Jane and Richard both discover that love and friendship are what matter. He takes her up for the one flight his plane is capable of: a few glorious minutes over the sheepfields. The experience caps her life and seems to promise a beginning of his. She tells him, "You have a future, Richard. Either take it or switch bodies with me." She leaves him a final message on the voice machine which is the only way she can communicate, encouraging him to claim his life, and reflecting, "The only life you can have is the one that is available to you."

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Madness

Hornbacher, Marya

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir of a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, complicated by eating disorders and alcoholism, records the internal experiences of mania, confusion, depression, delusion, anxiety, terror, wild impatience, discouragement, and at times clarity and resolve that alternate in her life of recurrent struggle.  Diagnosed somewhat belatedly as rapid cycling type 1 bipolar disorder, her disease drove her to one disastrous coping strategy after another until she was hospitalized for her eating disorder and for cutting herself.  After years of intermittent hospitalizations and encounters with several incompetent psychiatrists as well as a few who were consistently helpful, she has come to understand exactly the kind of help she needs-at times trusting others' assessments of her condition more than her own, accepting supervision, abstaining from all alcohol-a critical factor in avoiding psychosis.

Her doctors continue to recalibrate her complicated drug therapies, and her moods and control remain precarious, but she has learned to live with a disease that seems still to be poorly understood, accept the limits it imposes, and handle it with intelligence, humility, and even at times a wry note of humor.  She has learned to accept help from the husband whose love survives recurrent unintentional abuse, and from parents and friends who remain supportive.  She ends the memoir on this note of acceptance, appending to it a list of facts and statistics about bipolar disorder designed to help situate it for the reader relative to other diseases and disorders.

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The Condition

Haigh, Jennifer

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When Gwen is twelve, her parents, suspecting her failure to show signs of normal adolescent development may be more serious than they had thought, have her tested and learn that she has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that frequently manifests in short stature, broad chest, low-set ears, amenorrhea and sterility. The diagnosis brings a new source of discord into an already somewhat dysfunctional New England family.  Gwen's mother, Paulette, prefers not to talk openly about Gwen's condition, or even, for a time, to admit it is real.  Her father, a scientist at MIT, is deeply interested in finding out more about it, but the clinical nature of his interest offends his wife.

Eventually the parents divorce, each to cope with different kinds of loneliness and alienation from Gwen and her two brothers.  One of those brothers, the designated achiever, is gay, but remains closeted for some years, in keeping with his mother's family culture.  The other, after a somewhat rebellious youth, marries a girl from blue-collar California, takes a teaching job, and eventually finds himself identifying with his son who receives a diagnosis of ADD not available during Scott's own youth.  The novel follows the individual stories of the five family members, each of whom carries his or her own burden of suffering, and brings them together during an unusual holiday gathering at the end, not for magical closure, but for a remarkable moment of retrospective understanding and opportunity for each to do some self-assessment and self-disclosure.

At the heart of the story is Gwen's "condition," recognized by all of them as the sadness that lies at the core of their family's chronic discomforts with one another.  Gwen herself finds her way into an authentic love relationship in her mid-thirties with a Caribbean diving guide she meets on a chartered excursion.  Though her mother is horrified and suspicious, and the rest of her family bemused, the experience of authentic love and friendship liberates Gwen from a history of self-defeating presumptions about her own limitations.

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Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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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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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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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

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.

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