Helen Keller: A Life

Dorothy Herrmann, Author, Dorothy Hermann, Author
Dorothy Herrmann, Author, Dorothy Hermann, Author Knopf Publishing Group $30 (394p) ISBN 978-0-679-44354-4
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Since William Gibson's 1959 play and, later, the film The Miracle Worker, Keller (1880-1968) has been overshadowed in memory by her indefatigable teacher, Annie Sullivan. Herrmann (Anne Morrow Lindbergh) returns Keller--blind, deaf and mute--to the center of her own story, although Sullivan nonetheless remains the determined manager of the miracle that was Keller herself, who was seven at their meeting and frustrated by her grim, blank world. Spelling impressions into Keller's palm, Sullivan opened a sensory door. By controlling the metamorphosis of Keller's personality, Sullivan released the rural Alabama girl who eventually became one of the most famous females of her time. Sullivan did not set out to create a prodigy, yet Keller soon became one, writing books and articles on a special typewriter, meeting every president from Cleveland to Eisenhower, finding mentors and friends in the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain. Unwilling to accept handouts and insisting on earning a living on her own, Keller--with Sullivan until she died in 1936 at age 70--went on the vaudeville stage and later lectured and involved herself with left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Party. She remained a stoic, often charming woman with strong ideas and acute senses of touch and smell that kept her in sensory contract with what she could neither see nor hear. Herrmann's life avoids sentimentality and evokes the grievously handicapped Keller stretched by protective persistence into a figure admired worldwide. Photos. (Aug.)
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