BACK TALK: Teaching Lost Selves to Speak by Joan Weimer
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BACK TALK: Teaching Lost Selves to Speak

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A book that began as a biography of a little-known 19th-century writer turned into this powerful, inspiring memoir of the author's yearlong time-out with a back injury. In addition to her college teaching chores, her political activities, and her roles as wife, mother, and daughter, Weimer (English/Drew Univ.; editor, Women Artists, Women Exiles, not reviewed) was immersed in researching the life of writer Constance Fenimore Woolson, a friend of Henry James's. A back injury sent Weimer to the hospital for surgery and kept her virtually immobile at home in a brace for a year. Weimer's imagination focused on Woolson, who had ended a life of unacknowledged achievement by leaping from a window in Venice. The Victorian writer became Weimer's companion in a search for her ""other selves"" and her attempt to lead what Thoreau called the ""deliberate life."" There are two stories here. Through Weimer's vividly imagined conversations with ""Connie,"" we learn almost as much about the courageous Woolson, who was frustrated in her literary life by an aging mother and a rebellious brother, as we do about the determined college professor, who is frustrated by her pain and her confinement. Weimer recounts her inner journey with wrenching honesty but no self-pity, examining her relationship with her mother (anger turns to understanding), her children (satisfaction turns to regret), and the past that has triggered her obsession with Woolson. ""When I wake in the night, I lie wondering what it was like to be [Connie],"" says Weimer. Studies of goddess figures as well as a Jungian search for the feminine frame what is also a spiritual exploration. This almost brutal self-examination is written with humor, insight, and a gripping gift for detail that lets readers into the lives of two talented writers.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0226884155
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Random House