The New York Times reported, “It is the kind of book that cannot come into being without great living and great suffering and a rare spirit behind it.”
Hathaway herself called the book a “story of the liberation of a human being.”
Born in Baltimore in 1890, she spent the better part of her youth in Salem, Massachusetts. At the age of 5, she developed spinal tuberculosis. In an effort to avert kyphosis (colloquially, hunchback), her doctors strapped her for the next 10 years to a bed pulley-rigged with iron weights. It was here that, unable to move her body or head, she honed the interior life of the imagination that would nourish and validate her later calling to be a writer.
Her family was cultured, loving, and creative (although, typically New England-ish, they were also extremely emotionally closed down, to the point that nobody once, ever, referred to her condition or uttered the word “hunchback”). She developed a deep inner life of the imagination, encompassing both beauty and terror, that paved the way for her slow, painful, yet somehow sublime spiritual awakening.
Upon release from her bed, she was kyphotic anyway, deformed though mobile: deeply sensitive, deeply intelligent. That she could feel passionately about an idea came, at 15, with the force of revelation. “Something had blazed in me, and from the blaze I discovered a new element in myself, a combustible something that would always blaze again in defense of the mystery and sacredness in things, and against the queer, blind, blaspheming streak in human nature which instead of adoring, must vulgarize and exploit and insult life.”
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