Inspired by profiled writers Nancy Hamilton and Helen Keller, this month we each decided to introduce our friend to something new…
I must admit that when Emma Claire first suggested we visit a snowdrop trail together, I had my doubts that this was quite in the spirit of the challenge we’d set ourselves.
True, we’d be going to a new location for me, London’s Chelsea Physic Garden. But as for the snowdrops themselves, well, I thought I was already well-acquainted with those white-petaled flowers that emerge each year out of the coldest winter chill.
I could understand why Emma Claire was keen to go to this event. Snowdrops play a part in her novel, The Waifs and Strays of Seaview Lodge, but, recalling that I’d been able to identify one of these plants since the age of three or four, I wondered whether our planned morning would really provide me with enough new material on which to base this post.
Of course, as Emma Claire must have anticipated thanks to her research for her novel, the snowdrop varieties on show at the garden extended far beyond the Common and Double types with which I was familiar.
Some grew taller than any I’d previously seen; some had distinctive green markings; or uneven surfaces; or petals that extended outwards like wings. And without the accompanying signage, I’m not sure I would have recognised some of them as snowdrops at all.
Thinking about the morning afterwards, I remembered that when Emma Claire first suggested we consider profiling Helen Keller on Something Rhymed I’d had a similar reaction.
Although I was vaguely aware that this legendary deafblind woman had written an autobiography, I wasn’t sure whether that was enough to place her in the same category of ‘literary heroine’ as the other women whose friendships we’d been considering on this website.
But it turned out that the rather sugar-coated impression I’d had of Keller was formed almost entirely from a single book that I’d treasured as a child. Encouraged by its author, I can recall closing my eyes and blocking up my ears with my fingers to try and gain an inkling of how Keller experienced the world. From these pages, I’d learned of her amazing achievements, personally, and as a campaigner for others with disabilities.
But I had gleaned next to nothing about Keller’s wider political activism, as a socialist and supporter of women’s suffrage for instance. I didn’t know about her style of writing, or the spirited voice that shines through in essays like this one. Other than her student-teacher relationship with Anne Sullivan, who famously spelled out the word ‘water’ on the young Keller’s hand – I was in the dark about Keller’s other female friendships.
Over the years, Emma Claire’s influence has encouraged me to take a closer look at many things I’d once thought I understood. I have returned to books I disliked purely on the strength of her enthusiasm. I’ve adjusted my views on all sorts of subjects thanks to the back-and-forth of our conversations.
But until we went to see those snowdrops together, I don’t think I had truly noticed that this was one of the aspects I most value about our friendship. So, perhaps in the end, this was the real ‘something new’ I experienced as a result of this month’s challenge.