[lit-ideas] Re: The Taste of Helen Keller

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 08 Jul 2009 12:53:25 -0700

Mr Trogge had written that Helen Keller was 'blinded and deafened' at 19 months, which raised JL's ire for reasons that I do not yet understand. Perhaps it was because these verb forms suggested violence on the part of somebody, although why JL would take offense at that is unclear.


Helen Keller's blindness and deafness were caused by a disease. Nobody knows what it was, although the best candidates are scarlet fever or some form of meningitis. (It also left her mute.)

This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

'Keller was afflicted at the age of 19 months with an illness (possibly scarlet fever) that left her blind, deaf, and mute. She was examined by Alexander Graham Bell at the age of six; as a result he sent to her a 20-year-old teacher, Anne Sullivan (Macy) from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, which Bell's son-in-law directed. Sullivan, a remarkable teacher, remained with Keller from March 1887 until her own death in October 1936.

'Within months Keller had learned to feel objects and associate them with words spelled out by finger signals on her palm, to read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard, and to make her own sentences by arranging words in a frame. During 1888–90 she spent winters at the Perkins Institution learning braille. Then she began a slow process of learning to speak under Sarah Fuller of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, also in Boston. She also learned to lip-read by placing her fingers on the lips and throat of the speaker while the words were simultaneously spelled out for her. At age 14 she enrolled in the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City, and at 16 she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Massachusetts. She won
admission to Radcliffe College in 1900 and graduated cum laude in 1904.'

The entry in Wikipedia is more complete, and suggests that the editors of the EB abridged the story of how Anne Sullivan came to be Helen's tutor and companion. In any event, she was never the Kellers' 'nanny,'

That nanny they had, the Kellers, was pure gold, as Grice would say.

As Alfred North Whitehead would say, 'You could look it up.'

Robert Paul


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