Helen Keller’s remarkable story as the first deaf and blind person to obtain a bachelor’s degree is widely known, thanks to the film “The Miracle Worker.”
Absent, however, from accounts of her life, including her years as an activist and author, were any tales of a romantic life — up until now.
Author Rosie Sultan has written a novel called “Helen Keller in Love,” inspired by a recent biography that suggested Keller had a love affair in her 30s, became secretly engaged and tried to elope with the man she loved.
“I, like many people, had not really thought of her as a woman — with normal romantic and carnal desires,” Sultan wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post.
Sultan picks up the story in 1916 when Keller is in her 30s, world-famous and an outspoken opponent of World War I and vocal supporter of women’s rights and contraception. When her famous teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, falls ill, Peter Fagan, a 29-year-old Boston Herald reporter is sent to be Keller’s private secretary.
In Sultan’s novel, the two fall in love as Fagan learns to finger-spell into Keller’s open palm and shares her passion for politics. Soon, Keller is caught between loyalty to her family and teacher — who strongly believe, as did most of society then, that women with disabilities should not marry or even have sexual desires — and her yearning for love with Fagan.
After writing the book, Sultan said that perhaps Keller’s real untold story is how “her triumph over multiple disabilities and her enormous celebrity had trapped her within a constricting saintliness and an image of purity. Though she could speak up about equality, the rights of others — even, occasionally, sexuality — she was not granted the rights she sought for others.”