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An entire romance genre goes bung

An entire romance genre goes bung

Thursday, May 24, 2012
Posted in: willaful
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I’m listening to Helen Keller in Love, an audiobook I downloaded on impulse, and got curious about whether it was completely fictional or based on reality.  Some googling turned up that Keller did indeed fall in love with her secretary Peter Fagan, but their intended marriage was thwarted by Keller’s mother. I found this interesting comment by the author:

After writing the book, Sultan said that perhaps Keller’s real untold story is how “her triumph over multiple disabilities and her enormous celebrity had trapped her within a constricting saintliness and an image of purity. Though she could speak up about equality, the rights of others – even, occasionally, sexuality – she was not granted the rights she sought for others.”

Apparently some things never change. I also turned up a fascinating thread in Yahoo Answers, titled “Did Helen Keller Get Laid.” which ends with the comment — which three people have bothered to rate as “good” — “That’s not even a place I can take my mind about such a courageous person! ”

What the hell does that even mean? I suppose astronauts shouldn’t get to have sex, then. Or police officers. Or Navy Seals. That’s going to be a tremendous shock to any number of fellow romance fans I know.

For “courageous,” read saintly. Inspirational. Untouchable. Anything but a human being with normal feelings and desires.

13 Comments »

  • Because she was such a good, amazing, heroic person she has to be a virgin? Her having sex somehow “sullies” her legacy?

    Damn you did so much good and overcame so much, but alas everything did is now INVALIDATED BY THAT PENIS!!!!

    Ugh it’s both sexist and ableist – because there’s an ongoing idea that disabled people don’t have/don’t want sex. And the pressures of female “purity” are so extreme that they would almost be funny if they weren’t so revolting

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  • Jeannie S.
    May 24
    2:44 pm

    I saw a movie about her life years ago and they did show the relationship between her and Peter. I found it upsetting that her mother did this, but we have to remember this was over a century ago. Things were very different then, and although Helen Keller was a champion for the rights of others, it still had not come as far as it has now. What her mother did, she did out of love and was doing what she thought was best at that time. That doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I try and look at it from the point of view from someone living in that time period. We can’t put 21st century values on people living in the 19th century. Women were more protected then, and someone with disabilities were even more so.

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  • @Jeannie S.: As a mother with a special needs child, I can certainly respect that point of view. Doing what I think is best at the time is the story of my life.

    On the other hand, no one in her family seems to have tried to protect Helen from poverty, or isolation. Just from men.

    We also don’t know what Keller’s mother’s motives were. Several accounts on the net say she didn’t believe disabled people had the right to marry. I don’t know enough to say which version is right, though I’m interested enough to do a lot more research on the topic.

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  • Jeannie S.
    May 24
    5:58 pm

    @Willaful:

    @Willaful I am also the mother of a special needs child, and I have been thinking about this all morning. One of the things I did think about was that back then, there were no laws to protect those with disabilities, that was basically left to the families. Helen also had opportunities many children/adults with disabilities did not have – her family was wealthy and they had a teacher for her who later became a companion. This enabled her to go to college, which was very difficult for others like her or with other disabilities. Maybe things did become more difficult (financially) after her father died, but she was able to become prepared for them. She was lucky in that way.

    My son is in special education, and has other issues as well. I feel lucky to live in a time and country where help is available and he is able to get the education he needs. As a mother I am tempted to protect him from the world, but I also know he has to get out into it and make his own mark. From what I have seen, the other children in his school are very kind and caring to him and others in his classroom, so I am very hopeful for his future.

    We don’t really know what exactly what went on with Helen’s mother and Peter since we aren’t getting a first hand account. Was she being over-protective and interfering? Maybe. She might also have pointed out the realities of day-to-day life of someone like Helen Keller. If he really loved her, I think he would have fought harder to stay. I am reluctant to criticize her too much because she was a good mother to Helen and was there for her so much. I am not sure what I would have done in her place. At the very least, I am glad that we have made so much progress for this part of our society. They deserve every chance they can get.

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  • I hear your points, and I agree with much of what you say. I would just add, “lucky” is such a slippery concept. My son is lucky in many ways. He’s extremely intelligent, relatively functional, and conventionally attractive. (Never having been that myself, I know not to undervalue it.) He has two loving parents and a stable, comfortable home. (Also items I didn’t have as a child.)

    He’s also starting to get terribly depressed and upset about how other kids treat him, reminding me of what I was told by the doctor who diagnosed him, which was basically that if kids with his intelligence can get through adolescence without killing themselves, they’ll probably do very well. He’s already lonely. When he starts to have romantic feelings, if the people he’s interested in write him off as too weird to be near, no amount of listings of how lucky he is are going to matter much to him.

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  • What I find crazy is this great debate will live for years even after her death. :) I hope she had a rewarding life and if she loved, then I hope she was loved well and a good lover never kisses and tells.

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  • Jeannie S.
    May 24
    8:06 pm

    @Miss Lyons – lol, yes, that’s true, it is kind of crazy. I was also thinking, it’s kind of like thinking of my parents or grandparents that way, I just don’t want to know the details. If she did, good for her. It’s her own business, certainly not mine. She was definitely a very great lady who did great things. She was very gifted and overcame so much in her lifetime.

    @Willaful – Lucky may not be quite the right word, but if my son was born 100 years ago, or even 25 years ago, life would have been much harder for him. He was born with a severe cleft lip and palate, and they have come a long way since even I was an adolescent. What they have been able to do so far is amazing. He has other issues that, years ago, I don’t know what would have become of him. Now there are specialists out there who help to make sure he will go as far as he can. If I don’t agree with something, I have laws that back me up to make sure he gets every avenue of help he is entitled to. There are more choices and help now than even when I was growing up.

    I do feel your pain, and I know where you are coming from. I don’t know what the future holds for my son either. He is almost 9 now, and I don’t know what kind of job he will be able to hold – but I will make sure he has more choices than bagging groceries in the supermarket. Having a special needs child can be a blessing, but it also has challenges and stress most families don’t have to think about. My thoughts and prayers for your son, he is blessed to have a loving and supportive family. If you ever need someone to talk to about it, feel free to contact me, I can send you my e-mail address if you want. I wish all the best for you and your family.

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  • Thanks Jeannie. It’s always good to have other parents to talk to.

    By the way, I’m not halfway through the book yet but I don’t think it’s intended to be a particularly sympathetic portrait of Fagan. He was quite possibly an opportunist, or perhaps just a weakling, who never would have made a good husband for Keller. But of course, if someone is isolated and never allowed to express their normal feelings, they’ll likely be easy prey for the first person who has a chance to get at them. Teenagers don’t tend to have the best romantic judgment either, but they usually get to learn from their mistakes.

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  • @Missy Lyons: It’s nothing new, people speculate on the sex life of celebrities all the time

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  • On the original post, you are so dead on. Regardless of the times or circumstances, I do believe there is that tendency to equate women who do good (social works, social change, etc) as untouchable. It’s like we cannot condone their humanity–they have to be above to be truly good.

    If they prove to be human, like the rest of us (as in, they has SEX, dear jeebus, how dare they!) then they are weak and not worthy of our admiration–or indeed, gratitude.

    Funny how it doesn’t work quite the same for men, huh?

    On your son… *hug* adolescence is hard for everyone, for one reason or another, but being different from the norm always exacerbates the pain of it. My thoughts are with you.

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  • Lori
    May 25
    3:28 am

    I remember years ago talking to a woman whose teenage daughter died in a car accident and the woman said she was glad her daughter died a virgin. I felt so sad when I heard that, I understood in one way that her daughter was young but in another it seemed sad to me that this woman could treasure her daughter’s memory more because she was untouched.

    Being a mother is damned hard but having a child who you already know has certain disadvantages is harder. I don’t want to say anything that sounds wrong so I keep deleting my words here…. just really am happy your children have such smart, able mothers to help make their ways easier.

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  • @Lori: I suppose when your child dies you take comfort wherever you can possibly find it, but I can’t imagine feeling that way. Dying a virgin seems extra tragic to me. And of course, who even knows if the mother was right… :-\

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  • @AztecLady: Thanks for the hugs, AztecLady. There was another teasing incident at school today, so I am not feeling my most chipper. :-(

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