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Author:
• Friday, September 26th, 2014

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California, in 1965. She is the middle daughter of a mother who left home when McLain was four years old and a father who was often in jail. McLain and her two sisters spent their childhood in various foster homes. When Paula McLain was eighteen she became independent and supported herself by working as a nurses’ aid in a convalescent hospital, then as a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker and a cocktail waitress before coming across a creative writing class when twenty four and discovering that her passion was to be a writer.

Paula Mclain has written two novels to date: A Ticket To Ride in 2008 and The Paris Wife in 2011.
She also wrote a non-fiction book in 2003: Like Family:Growing Up In Other People’s Houses and two poetry books: Less Of Her in 1999 and Stumble, Gorgeous in 2005.

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996 and fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. McLain teaches poetry in the MFA program at New England College and lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Paris Wife narrated by Hadley, is a well documented, fictionalized biography, which also
respects the historical period in which Hemingway, the famous pillar of American literature, lived with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in the Paris of the roaring twenties.

The reserved and timid, Hadley Richardson, who has abandoned any hope of love and marriage, is twenty eight years old when, in October 1920, she meets a handsome young man called Ernest Hemingway, eight years younger than herself, at a party in Chicago. They fall in love and after a short courtship and a stream of letters, they get married in 1921 and decide to live in Paris, which at the time is the centre of art and culture and where Hemingway will work as a foreign correspondent.

The Paris Wife is a homage to Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. McLain recognizes that The Moveable Feast – Hemingway’s own posthumously published memoir in 1964 by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, about his Paris years – was the inspiration that spawned her book. The story is told from Hadley’s perspective in a similar way to The Moveable Feast, which was written from Hemingway’s perspective. He says in his book that it’s about “how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy”.

McLain recounts the short, tumultuous years when Hadley and Hemingway lived together, as well as the beginning of Hemingway’s literary career in the early twenties in Paris. The newly married couple mix with Anglo Saxon expatriates, like American novelist, Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his novelist wife, Zelda, the American poet and critic, Ezra Pound, the American novelist, poet and playwrite, Gertrude Stein and the Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce, to name a few.

Unlike Hemingway, Hadley doesn’t feel at ease mixing with these non-conformist new acquaintances. She discovers that she lacks the ambition and the stamina to pursue her pianistic talent despite the encouragements of her husband and her friends. She is contented to be living through and in the shadow of her highly ambitious husband who is working very hard to make a name for himself in the literary world.

The Paris Wife is a poignant story of two psychologically damaged and therefore highly vulnerable people who love each other deeply without being able to grow old together. They both need each other but can’t lean on or rely on one another. Consequently their marriage is destined to fail.

Hadley loses Hemingway’s trust when she loses the small valise containing all of Hemingway’s three years work manuscripts on a train in the Gare de Lyon on her way to join him in Lausanne. Hemingway’s mistrust deepens further when Hadley announces her unexpected pregnancy to him when he isn’t yet ready for fatherhood and thinks that Hadley is imposing her will. Hemingway loses Hadley’s trust when she first sees his interest in other women and suspects his disloyalty when admiring Lady Duff Twysden, followed by the justified threatening love affair with her unfaithful friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.

After a brief marriage that lasts from 1921 to 1927, Hadley and Hemingway divorce because Hadley refuses Hemingway’s proposal for a “ménage à trois” with Pauline Pfeiffer, a not uncommon practice in the post first world war liberal Paris. Unable to convince Hadley, Hemingway marries Pauline Pfeiffer who becomes the second of his four wives.

Once the irreparable happens, life is never the same again for either of them. “Hemingway still loved Hadley afterwards. He couldn’t and wouldn’t stop loving her, maybe ever, but she killed something in him too. He’d once felt so anchored and solid and safe with her, but now he wondered if he could ever trust anyone”. Much later in his life, Hemingway reveals his regret in the last book he was working on before committing suicide, The Moveable Feast, when he wrote: “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her”, referring to Hadley.

When Hadley is informed about Hemingway’s suicide by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, she says: “Tatie was dead. There was nothing Paul – her second husband – could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing”. A sad love story that transcends any epoch.

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Author:
• Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Kathryn Stockett was born in Jackson, Mississippi USA in 1969. She was raised by an African American maid called Demetrie McLorn and graduated from the University of Alabama after obtaining a degree in English and Creative Writing.

Aged twenty-four and with her diploma in hand she moved to New York where, for nine years, she worked in magazine publishing and marketing. Presently she lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

The Help, published in 2009, is Kathryn Stockett’s first novel. It took her five years to write and about sixty rejection letters from publishers because of its controversial subject matter. As soon as it was published it became a best seller and was on The New York Times Best Seller List for Fiction for a hundred weeks. It was Amazon’s Best Books of the year 2009 and was long listed for the Orange Prize in 2010. It won the Townsend Prize for Fiction in 2010 and the exclusive Books Boeke Prize in 2009. The Help has been published in thirty five countries, translated into several languages, has sold over five million copies and was released as a film in August 2011.

Kathryn Stockett’s next book will again be located in Mississippi and will also be about women, but this time will be set during the period of the Great Depression.

The story of The Help takes place in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960’s, a crucial period for American Civil Rights. It’s a few months away from Martin Luther King’s memorable “I have a dream” speech that took place in Washington D.C. in 1963 and a few years after the civil rights and freedom movement of the mid-fifties by Rosa Parks. It’s a couple of years away from the abolition of Jim Crow’s end of the 19th century segregation laws against African Americans by president Lyndon B. Johnson in Congress in1964, making racial discrimination illegal.

In The Help, there are three main characters who take turns in the narration: Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. The novel starts and ends with Aibileen, the oldest and wisest of the three. She is an African American maid in her fifties who, in a maternal loving way, raised seventeen white children in her lifetime along with the cooking and cleaning. Her love and care is often shown in the novel in the way she is raising Mae Mobley, the Leefolt toddler, as a surrogate mother. She is grieving over the loss of her only young son in a work accident, which was blatantly disregarded by his employer and which she was obliged to accept.

Aibileen’s best friend, Minny, is also an African American maid. She is younger than Aibileen, but unlike her, she is derisive, impetuous, indocile and bottles a great deal of anger in herself which makes it hard for her to keep her employments for long. She says to Miss Celia Foote, her present employer and who is labelled by society as “white trash”: “I got knowed for my mouth round town. And I figure that’s what it be, why nobody want to hire me”. Her wrath explodes when she prepares the chocolate custard pie that she bakes and combines with the ingredients her own faeces as a revenge and as a kept promise when she said “eat my shit” to her worst enemy, the loathsome, Miss Hilly Holbrook, who loves the cake and eats two big pieces of it rashly and voraciously, oblivious of what it hides inside. As Minny describes it: “she stuff it in her mouth like she ain’t ever eaten nothing so good…What do you put in here, Minny, that makes it taste so good?”
Minny was delighted to reveal to her what she had added to the ingredients and shocked Miss Hilly and her mother beyond belief.

The twenty-two-year-old Eugenia Phelan or Miss Skeeter is the youngest of the three. She is the daughter of a white family of cotton growers, who, like many southerners, employs black people in their fields and in their household as domestic servants. After graduating, Skeeter returns home to look for a job as a writer. She is emancipated, ambitious and thinks she can change the cruel, unfair, world she grew up in with its racism and injustice, which nobody in her conservative surroundings conveniently seems to notice. She is unruly, defiant and stands firm for her beliefs.

Outraged by the iniquities and unacceptable racism prevailing around her and even among her closest friends, Skeeter secretly decides to encourage the African American maids of her entourage to tell her their stories while in service with white families. To avoid retaliation, she is not going to sign her name as the author of her planned, anti-establishment, daring book and she promises the maids anonymity by using pseudonyms and by calling the city, Niceville. The oppressed, unfairly treated but unyielding maids accept to cooperate with Miss Skeeter.

The risk taken by Skeeter is similar to the one taken by Stockett for her début novel, racial boundaries still being a controversial subject in the south of USA. One simply does not “talk about such uncomfortable things”.

Although Skeeter is very secretive about her planned book, she succeeds in creating enemies around her and among her best friends, especially the self proclaimed leader, Hilly Holbrook, her childhood friend. Hilly is the president of the Junior League in Jackson Mississippi. She is racist, overbearing, arrogant and heartless and couldn’t put up with any person opposing her – people follow her in fear of her acrimony or reprisals.

Skeeter’s maid, Constantine, is presumably included in the novel in loving memory of Demetrie McLorn, the African American maid who worked for the Stockett family for fifty years. The author said in an interview that she started writing her novel in the voices of Demetrie, her black maid who died when Stockett was just sixteen-years-old. She raised her and was closer to her and her siblings than their absentee mother. However, The Help was not dedicated to Demetrie McLorn but to the author’s grandfather Stockett who was “the best story teller of all”, she said.

On the other hand Stockett included Demetrie McLorn in the acknowledgements. The author wrote: “My belated thanks to Demetrie Mclorn, who carried us all out of the hospital wrapped in our baby blankets and spent her life feeding us, picking up after us, loving us and thank God, forgiving us”. She also included her in her postscript: “Too Little, Too Late, Kathryn Stockett, in her own words”.

When the author was asked about her favourite character in the novel she said : “Aibileen is my favourite because she shares the gentleness of Demetrie”.

After failing her first writing attempt and after going through the terrible 9/11 event while living in New York city, Stockett felt homesick and said she wanted “to hear or revisit, those voices from her past”. That is when she decided to write The Help, a novel about her home town with the heavy, outdated dialect which made the story three dimensional for the readers and despite being an easy to read novel, it needed some getting used to for non natives.

The author reveals the gangrene that rots American society, like racism, class prejudices and the survival of the fittest and powerful. The novel is sometimes jocose despite its sadness, in order to ease the overwhelming intensity, but unfortunately it is often repulsively inhuman, poignant and moving. Albeit the tentative optimistic ending of a new era shining on the horizon, there is the success of Miss Skeeter’s book and her moving on to fulfil her dream by accepting a job offer at Harper’s magazine in New York, as a copy editor’s assistant.

There is also Minny, who at last wants to assert her independence by leading a new life away from her brutal and abusive husband.

The same optimism is displayed with Aibileen walking back home in the bright sunshine. She has just been fired by the weak charactered, Miss Elisabeth Leefolt, who receives the order from Miss Hilly Holbrook and carries it out without hesitation, despite the fact that Aibileen has been a good valuable, honest worker to the Leefolt family. The tenacious, Aibileen still holds some hope for the future, thinking that she is not too old after all to start another job as a writer.

All very optimistic and auspicious, but sadly there is still a long way to go in order to abolish the racism and hatred nourished by segregation that still prevails today in many communities of the world.