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The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl
Synopses & Reviews
In 1837, Samuel Gridley Howe, the ambitious director of Boston's Perkins Institution for the Blind, heard about Laura Bridgman, a bright deaf-blind seven-year-old, the daughter of New Hampshire farmers. He resolved to dazzle the world by rescuing her from the "darkness and silence of the tomb." And indeed, thanks to Howe and an extraordinary group of female teachers, Laura learned to finger-spell, to read raised letters, and to write legibly and even eloquently.
Philosophers, poets, educators, theologians, and early psychologists hailed Laura as a moral inspiration and a living laboratory for the most controversial ideas of the day. She quickly became a major tourist attraction, and many influential writers and reformers—Carlyle, Dickens, and Hawthorne among them—visited her or wrote about her. But as the Civil War loomed and her girlish appeal faded, the public began to lose interest. By the time Laura died in 1889, she had been wholly eclipsed by Helen Keller.
The Imprisoned Guest recovers Laura Bridgman's forgotten life, placing it in the context of nineteenth-century American social, intellectual, and cultural history. Her troubling, tumultuous relationship with Howe, who rode her achievements to his own fame but could not cope with the intense, demanding adult she became, sheds light on the contradictory attitudes of a reform era in which we can find some precursors to our own.
In 1837, Samuel Gridley Howe set about rescuing Laura Bridgman, a deaf-blind seven-year-old, from the "darkness and silence of the tomb." Bridgman learned to finger-spell, to read raised letters, to write legibly and even eloquently, and became a living exhibit for contemporary theological and psychological debates, with influential writers and reformers — Carlyle, Dickens, and Hawthorne among them — visiting or writing about her. But by her death in 1889, she had been wholly eclipsed by the prettier, more ingratiating Helen Keller. The Imprisoned Guest is an absorbing, inspiring account of an extraordinary life.
About the Author
Elisabeth Gitter is a professor of English at the City University of New York's John Jay College who specializes in the Victorian era.
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