Helen writes that though she has sketched out the events of her life, she has not yet shown how greatly she has depended upon books for pleasure, knowledge of the world, and empathy. Helen writes that she first began to read connected stories in May of 1887, when she was seven years old, and since then has “devoured” everything that has come “within reach of [her] hungry finger tips.”
Helen has learned a lot about the world from books, and in this chapter she wants to pay tribute to the influence the written word has had on the “story of her life.” This is one of the memoir’s main themes: the power of language, stories, and the written word.
Helen began to read seriously during her first trip to Boston, when she was permitted to spend parts of her days in the Perkins Institution library and take in whatever she pleased. She read voraciously, jumping form book to book, retaining much of what she read but understanding the true meaning of very little of it. Among her favorite books were The Scarlet Letter and Little Lord Fauntleroy, and the latter especially fascinated and absorbed Helen. As Helen read the classics over the course of the next two years, delighting in stories like The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, Little Women, and Heidi, she gave little thought to criticism or language and instead became lost in the stories the books told.
As Helen developed her palate as a young reader, she read voraciously, but gravitated to titles which told fantastic tales of faraway worlds, or otherwise focused on domestic drama and family life. It is no wonder Helen was drawn to these types of stories, as the former allowed her imagination to soar while the latter allowed her to explore a familiar but slightly different milieu.
Over the years, Helen has become obsessed with stories about antiquity, especially ancient Greece. She has also discovered the glories of reading the Bible, and reads it again and again throughout the years “with an ever-broadening sense of joy and inspiration.” She loves Shakespeare dearly, and has found herself most deeply impressed by his darker plays, especially King Lear and Macbeth. Helen also loves reading history, as well as French and German literature, and feels that the “eternal things” contained in the works of great writers such as Hugo, Goethe, and Moliére have allowed her spirit to access “regions where Beauty and Truth and Goodness are one.”
Helen, now a young woman, is a versatile reader with a wide variety of tastes and interests. She is intrigued by religions of the world, and finds herself now drawn to but also slightly repelled by darker, more grotesque narratives. Helen enjoys that books give her the chance to access beauty and truth, but also enjoys the view of the world they allow her to have as she communes with all these different accounts of the human experience.
Helen states simply that literature is her Utopia. In the worlds of her best-loved books, Helen is not disenfranchised, and her blindness and deafness are not barriers—her “book-friends” talk to her, unlike so many real people, without any embarrassment or awkwardness, and in this way they have taught her love and charity.
Books have been Helen’s unfailing friends, and have allowed her to experience a sense of communion with the world even when she is alone. Books allow her to be her truest self, and also expose her to versions of who she could be, and what she should strive towards as she grows.