Monday, January 23, 2017

What Katy Did and disabilities

I'm working on blog entries today as I'll be away for a couple of days so the the time I'd normally use will be taken up making arrangements and all that.
A favourite novel of mine is What Katy Did by the American authoress Susan Coolidge which was written in 1872 that I've had my current hardback copy from 1989 if I remember correctly although I sure had and read it during my childhood.
Lots of editions have been produced but I love the simple unaffected illustration on the front of this one because it's inviting but clearly is of the era showing Katy Carr outside the picket fence with the traditional timber framed house in the background.
I have been re-reading this because this is book that spoke very directly to me as a disabled child where generally speaking we were not inked in the world that children saw so it was this book and the English (they'd never say British) satirists Flanders And Swann that showed we had place people could accept.
Chunks of Katy, the twelve year old, struggling at 'self-improvement', having grandiose aims and rather dashing them badly not really a bad girl girl but carried away at times was and indeed is me all over.Mischievous, getting into trouble but remorseless upon being found out, it's just so familiar because it's not that you don't have a conscience, you do, but it kicks in too late!
The other thing is really from the second half of the novel, something truly awful happens to Katy very much by accident as she goes in the Swing that she was told not to go on by her Aunt Izzie  who just expected a child to just follow the instruction rather than saying it was unsafe.
The line comes out from the staple that was designed to secure it as she soars, so she falls at speed to the ground striking her spine. It leaves her unable to walk and more or less confined to her upstairs bedroom  for a long period whereupon she is visited by her family.
Re-reading that moved me because it's similar to what happened to me just a couple years older than Katy where something went wrong with a swing and I hit the asphalt beneath with speed and at force. It didn't paralyze me although I was bruised but it left me drifting in and out of consciousness for about ten hours living permanently with significant brain damage where head struck the surface.
Part of the novel talks about how that experience affected her being in pain, feeling bitter and about how she adapts to becoming disabled when her beloved cousin Helen who also is disabled comes over explaining to her she needs to adapt, making the most of the situation she is in or risk losing the love and affection of her family though her own attitude.
Some have criticized the emphasis around her learning patience, learning to be cheerful, having hope, trying to keep things neat and getting on life as it as part of the "sainthood" attached to disabled people as if that's their only value.
To me it's to miss the point entirely which is life as a disabled person is harder, comes with disappointment, doesn't exempt you from general expectations and in my experience and a few others you just have to adapt to what is. It's a brutal truth.
It is certainly the case in the novel the idea Katy could of been looked after downstairs wasn't explored at nor is any kind of physical therapy (UK: physiotherapy) looked at which today we sure would because that was too new in the late nineteeth century.
We learn later on, Katy after Aunt Izzie dies, does begin to learn to walk again, taking on the running of the house which to me then was a sign at least you *could* have a life where you did contribute.
To me although criticized for what is seen by some as late nineteeth century (UK:Victorian) moral instruction, it's a enjoyable inspirational story whose values do align more with the 'real world' when it comes to offering the disabled reader some comfort and life lessons.
That's why I always loved it.

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