“The Story of my Life” – Helen Keller. 1902.
I had read stories about Helen Keller when I was a kid, and at some point I saw the movie “The Miracle Worker”. I wanted to read Helen’s biography though to read some of her writings, and also to learn more details of how she was taught to read and to understand words, and just basic life skills.
The book has four parts – the autobiography, letters written by Helen, letters written by her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and some editorial remarks by John Macy, who became Annie Sullivan’s husband.
In a way, the biography portion was a disappointment. I hadn’t realized she wrote it while she was still in college – it was published in 1902 when she was 22. I was more interested in her adult life but also the processes which she went through as a child in learning various skills. But, like most of us, I suppose, she did not remember much about learning to read, or in her case, read the manual alphabet(letters spelled into her hand) then learning to read raised print and later braille.
A lot of the biography is on her likes and dislikes, her work getting into college and her current college experiences. Its still interesting, but not really what I was interested in learning. I did like the beginning section on what she remembered from being a child, but it seemed a lot was focused on her “high school” and college prep years. She had private tutors most of the time, as regular high schools were not able to accommodate her. The biography does show however what an outgoing person she was and how her strong personality gave her the fortitude to overcome not only obstacles of her disability, but created by others. It also showed what a positive outlook she had on life, with a determination to find the beauty in everything.
The rest of the book consists of letters which are fascinating. Helen’s letters start from the time when she first starts being able to write : “Helen will write mother letter papa did give helen medicine mildred will sit in swing mildred did kiss helen”1. From there, you can see how she progresses to being a very skilled writer at the age of 22. And not only was she reading and writing in English, but in German, French, Greek and Latin!
“I used to wish that I could see pictures with my hands as I do statues, but now I do not often think about it because my dear Father has filled my mind with beautiful pictures, even of things I cannot see. If the light were not in your eyes, dear Mr. Brooks, you would understand better how happy your little Helen was when her teacher explained to her that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.”2
Annie Sullivan’s letters are just as interesting. A lot of them are to her “mentor” at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, and she writes of her struggles and successes in teaching Helen, and describes day to day activities.
So if you read it, don’t just stop at the biography, the best part are the letters.
1. Keller, Helen; Sullivan, Annie; Macy, John Albert (2011-03-24). The Story of my life; with her letters (1887-1901) and a supplementary account of her education, including passages from the reports and letters of her … Mansfield Sullivan, by John Albert Macy . . Kindle Edition.