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What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
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What Is Visible (2014)

by Kimberly Elkins

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13715137,792 (4)11
Presents a fictionalized account of the life and challenges of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind woman to learn language, and those who helped her, including the founder of the Perkins Institute, with whom she was in love, and her beloved teacher.

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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I picked up this book because they have it categorized as Christian fiction. I am thankful that Laura returned to being a Christian and yearned to read the Bible, but there were too many other elements that made this book not read like my usual Christian historical fiction. ( )
  eliorajoy | Nov 19, 2017 |
Really admired and enjoyed this fictional account of the life of Laura Bridgeman, the first deaf and blind woman to communicate through finger spelling. I thought the author took a few liberties but they didn't bother me much. It has lots of things I like - Boston in the 1840s, abolitionists, Julia Ward Howe, and a cameo by Helen Keller. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Hm.  I'm not much for historical fiction, but this seemed very well done.  Good author's note.  Engaging.  Reminds me a lot of Tracy Chevalier's books in tone and re' the focus on sexuality.  Not too high a yuck factor - Laura actually had a better life than many women of the time, and, in fact, it's possible she would have had a worse life if she'd grown up with her senses, with her family, and then married some random lout.  But that's not the point... the point is that Elkins believes (with good reason) that Laura had a rich and interesting inner life, and that it's good for readers to realize that. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
What is Visible - Kimberly Elkins
3.5 stars ( round up to 4)

“Without someone always beside her to translate the world and its comings and goings, she was utterly alone, in a vacuum, at the mercy of those who happened into her palm, or not.”

Before Helen Keller learned to sign , 'water’ into Anne Sullivan’s hand, there was Laura Bridgman. Laura was the first deaf/blind student to be successfully educated in the United States. Her education and her celebrity were managed by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind. This novel is told from multiple perspectives, beginning with the internal, conversational, thoughts of Laura. Chapters are also devoted to Dr. Howe, his famous wife, Julia Ward Howe and Laura’s teacher, Sarah Wight.

Laura Bridgman was a very famous 19th century personality. She conversed with many famous people, including Charles Dickens, Longfellow and Dorothea Dix. Her successful education helped to establish Samuel Howe as an influential reformer and educator. She was an early ‘poster child’ for the disabled and was expected to display her skills for large audiences to raise funds for the Perkins Institution. Elkins tells a plausible story of Laura’s distorted perceptions of the world, her obsessive attraction to Samuel Howe, and her destructive self-stimulatory behaviors. Alternate chapters follow Julia Ward Howe’s dissatisfaction with her oppressive marriage and Samuel Howe’s frustrated inability to control neither his wife nor his student.

I’m sure Elkins had historically sound reasons for the thoughts and behaviors the she gave her historical characters. There was nothing essentially inaccurate about this fictional retelling. But, I felt that Elkins injected a 21st century political correctness onto her depiction of Samuel Gridley Howe. I have no doubt that the man was insufferably paternalistic both publically and privately. He was a product of his times. That aspect of his personality comes across in this novel, but there his little attention paid to his very real contributions to the education of disabled children. For example, Elkins makes casual mention of the physical fitness and free movement of the blind students at the institute, but spends much time on Howe’s fascination in the science of phrenology (head bumps).

Elkins seemed more interested in the homo-erotic overtones of Howe’s relationship with Senator Charles Sumner. In fact, the book is very concerned with the sexual lives of the famous characters, including Sarah Wight’s marriage to a syphilitic missionary. It’s not that the sex lives of the famous are uninteresting, I just find Charles Sumner’s abolitionist speeches and his attack on the Senate floor to be more interesting than speculation on his sexual orientation. Elkins’ book skims over the social and political climate mid-19th century America and keeps it’s focus on the intimate lives of these influential people.
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  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Who knew that there was a famous deaf mute before Helen Keller? This is the fictitious story based on Laura Bridgman's life. She lived until she was sixty with only the sense of touch to guide her, having lost her other five senses as a child to scarlet fever. What an awful life but it's also an amazing story how she survived and thrived and became quite famous.
  MissItaly | Jan 28, 2016 |
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To my parents, Paul and Linda Elkins
for everything then and everything now
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How little they trot me out for show these days, and yet here I am this frigid morning, brought down from my toom to meet a child, and me not out of my sickbed two weeks.
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