BACK TALK by Joan Weimer


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: 0-679-41546-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994