Helen Keller's forbidden love: New book inspired by the author's clandestine engagement tells of thwarted romance and broken hearts
20:21 GMT, 8 May 2012
Helen Keller is known by most as a remarkable woman who defied her disability by becoming the first deaf blind person to receive a Bachelor's degree, an author and an activist.
But until now little was told or even heard of about Helen's romantic life as the very notion of someone without the ability to hear, see or speak being in love seemed so implausible.
Yet this was not the case according to author Rosie Sultan, who has penned a novel inspired by a story she read in a biography that suggested she had desires just like any other woman.
Exceptional: Helen Keller could not speak, hear or see from the age of 19 months and yet she still felt the same romantic desires as any other woman
Ms Sultan recalled her discovery of the new information on the Huffington Post and how she reacted on reading that Helen had in fact been engaged.
'”What” I put the book down and thought. “Helen Keller had a love affair” I, like many people, had not really thought of her as a woman – with normal romantic and carnal desires.'
Ssh: In 1916, the year after Helen's teacher and companion Anne Sullivan (right) fell ill and after this picture was taken, Helen fell in love with Peter Fagan
The short chapter had described a relationship that had led to a secret engagement and an attempted elopement against the will of her teacher Anne Sullivan and her family.
Driven to find out more, the author set about researching everything she could about Helen, delving into the wealth of archives to find out about this mystery man and Helen's romantic yearning.
The character in question it
transpired was one Peter Fagan, a young Boston Herald reporter who was
sent to Helen's home to act as her private secretary when lifelong
companion, Anne, fell ill.
Isolated: In those days society did not deem it appropriate for a woman in Helen's condition to marry or entertain ideas of romance
Ms Sultan explains: 'The pair quickly became infatuated. Peter rapidly learned the manual finger-spelling language. Soon he spelled the content of letters, newspaper articles, and books into Helen's open palm.
'In close contact with a man for the first time in her life – a man who shared her passion for politics, her zest for life – Helen felt alive, awake.'
And yet Helen was not allowed to nurture this blossoming love because, as the author discovered, in 1916 society did not deem it appropriate for someone in her condition to marry nor even harbour such desires.
How this must have felt for the young
woman who had already been cheated of so much, is a subject that Ms
Sultan was keen to explore.
Inspired: Rosie Sultan delved into the archives about Helen and wrote a novel about the love story that was never told
Soon after beginning her research she learned that even as a child, Helen was capable of vanity. When men would visit her house she would ask: 'Do I look pretty'
Warned away from entertaining the ideas of romance she was made to put away any romantic literature and 'read something to improve her mind.'
Even at university when a young man was assigned adjudicator of her examinations, he was swiftly replaced.
For this reason Ms Sultan explains, Helen Keller In Love is a novel that imagines 'the love story that Helen Keller could not – or would not – tell.'