"Without Laura Bridgman there could never have been a Helen Keller," philosopher William James declared. Yet Laura has been largely forgotten, whereas Helen is an inspirational household name. Who was Laura Bridgman, and why was she so famous in her time? With her debut novel, Kimberly Elkins imagines Laura's rich inner life and places her within a fertile mid-century New England context replete with educators, scientists, and reformers, but also with the threat of war and debates over slavery and religion.
The novel is bookended by scenes set in 1888, when fifty-eight-year-old Laura meets eight-year-old Helen Keller, "my presumptive heir." They have a mutual friend, Annie Sullivan, who learned the manual alphabet (see 'Beyond the Book') from Laura. Helen asks Laura which sense she would choose to regain. "Sight," she replies, "for life has been dark for over half a ...
The novel What Is Visible has been germinating for over a decade; Elkins published a related short story in The Atlantic in March 2003 and a different version of it then appeared in Best New American Voices 2004 and McGraw-Hill college textbook Arguing Through Literature. The prologue appeared (also in a different version) as a story in The Drum, and a version of chapter 17 appeared in the Chicago Tribune literary supplement.
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