In The Golden Age, Joan London charts the story of Frank Meyer’s childhood in Hungary and his subsequent sojourn in the hospital as a polio sufferer. The hospice provides polio-sufferers like Frank a chance to develop a sense of community whilst they struggle to cope with the loneliness and the life-changing circumstances. Not only does the disease change one’s life, but London believes that it also gives the sufferers a rare insight into pain and suffering. It also makes them reflect upon the loneliness of being in the world, as well as on the nature of relationships. For many sufferers, hope and help come from unlikely quarters as people act heroically in difficult circumstances.
In many ways, the Golden Age becomes a micro-cosm of society. Not only does it become a substitute home away from home, but also helps many of the children find their “vocation” in life.
As a substitute home, it is a “natural quarantine” whose rooms are “spacious” and where the children are “surrounded by faces shining with hope and encouragement”. As London shows, their shared sense of suffering brings them together and helps each of them try to cope with their acute sense of loneliness in order to “find their way back into the world”. This sense of community is particularly acute during the evening when they were allowed to sit on the verandah “until they were tired enough to sleep”. Listening to the “hitch-pitched laughter” of the nurses, London describes the children, symbolically, as “birds gathered at a waterhole at sundown” to capture their sense of lightness, freedom and solidarity. This was a time when they felt a strong sense of togetherness and believe they have “free spirits”, rumbling up and down the broad timber boards of the verandah in the dusk”. (birds at the waterhole (126)
As polio sufferers, the children are set apart because of their physical disability which gives them an acute sense of the loneliness of existence.
London also suggests that the children understand more than most about the condition of being an individual in the world. Every one, London suggests lives and dies alone and the polio sufferers are particularly aware of the pain of being an individual. (28).
Sullivan Bakehouse who is admitted to the IDB ward in Perth Hospital becomes a mentor for Frank and helps him to understand the role of suffering in the lives of those who are struck by polio. He reflects London’s view that each child must find a way to cope with the challenges of the disease which separates families and makes children acutely aware of their lonely place in the world. “Sullivan said his real life had always been when he was alone.” “We die alone”.
Each one must rethink what it means to be alone in the world, and dependent upon no-one but themselves. Most of the children have a strong sense of strength and determination which is necessary to survive and succeed. They soon know that “they were alone and success and failure in overcoming polio was up to them.” (It is the same sense of quiet strength that exists in many of London’s characters.)
Rayma, too, had learnt “to be alone”. “Without your mother, you had to think. “ Rayma realises that it was “like letting go of a hand, jumping off the high board, walking by yourself to school. Once you’d done it, you were never afraid of it again.”
For Elsa Briggs, the sky reminds her of her loneliness. Elsa sees the sky and thinks of her mother and she knows that some feelings never change. “The sky also told her that each person was alone and the world went on, no matter what was happening to you.” (11).
As Sister Penny states, “all the children are fond of each other … when children are cut off from their families and live side by side, they become very close.” All the children share their own particular “onset story” and the condition that often makes them and emotionally astute.
As each person’s onset story changes everything, each of the polio sufferers experiences a search for identity.
Owing to their devastating life-changing story of polio, each child is searching for a renewed sense of identity. Each onset story is the story of the loss of physical mobility and hence the loss of identity as an able-bodied person. Many have to make adjustments, always seeing themselves as “injured”, the tamed bird, that has damaged wings. They endure the stigma of difference and know that this will also be hurtful for families. For children like Albert, there is considerable pain at the separation from families.
Sullivan admits, “at last I’m learning how to life” as he seeks to value the beauty of each day. Even Sullivan’s “onset story” had a “sort of beauty” wherein he saw the sun through his glasses (30) Frank first met Sullivan when he was admitted as a 13 year old into the Infectious Diseases Branch of the Royal Perth Hospital (IDB). There he met Sullivan Backhouse, whom he often visited from the hospice of the Golden Age.
In the hospice, “everyone had their onset story” and this story changed their lives forever. This onset story brings the children together; it is something they all share. Despite the life-changing nature of this “onset story”, there can also be moments of poetry.
Sullivan was struck by polio one day while participating in the Head of the River rowing race. He felt like a swim and then realised that “he could not move his legs”. (30) Whilst Frank believes that there is some poetry in this story, he notes that his onset experience was characteristically “unpoetic” . He experienced a “blinding headache” and refused to get out of bed, which infuriated his mother, Ida who was running late for work (30). Soon however, through “Meyer’s miraculous reappearance”, Frank is “lying in his arms like a baby being carried to the ambulance” (31) . According to London, this day changes everything and for this reason, they all have an acute memory of this significant experience. Even Sullivan’s “onset story” had a “sort of beauty” wherein he saw the sun through his glasses (30)
Likewise, Elsa experienced a couple of “sharp nudges on the elbow” while she was riding her bike and then had a horrible fall. “Something is terribly wrong with me” she thinks. (121)
Elsa and Aunt Nance
London explores the consequences of difference that occurs because of life-debilitating sicknesses such as polio. Not only do the sufferers develop a different type of sensitivity but they aware that people view them differently. Ada and Raymond sit at the table. “They didn’t say anything. This was the effect polio had on people. .. They went silent.” (103) When most of the inpatients return home for Christmas, Frank meets Elsa’s sister, Sally. She is the sister, “Elsa never talked about … there was a silence around Sally.” (112)
London suggests that sicknesses like polio do increase an individual’s sensitivity towards suffering and towards others. Many who suffer polio, she believes, develop an creative imagination or have a deep sense of intuition that helps them tune into another world of feeling and emotion.
Elsa becomes aware of her sense of difference from Aunt Nance and her lack of hope. She imagines her body as something that could be easily discarded – as a “piece of seaweed that could be thrown away”. Nance realizes that she had brought shame and humiliation on her family. (82)
A process of self-discovery
Sullivan writes, “I have to find myself, A place where I can breathe. That’s where poetry lives. In the oldest part of us”. Sullivan mediates the author’s view that each individual must cope with the loneliness of life and they have to find strategies to cope. They have to find their “vocation” which will support them and which will help define their purpose in life owing to the terrible consequences of polio.
Polio also disrupts family relationships as the children negotiate their different identities and the children become emotionally distant and separate. Whilst Frank had to grow up in Julia Marai’s attic—these experiences were the “beginning of himself” – he later realizes that owing to his disease, his parents will have to re-evaluate their own expectations and goals and emotional demands. They can no longer “count on him for all their happiness”. “I refuse to be their own light”.
Likewise, Elsa tries to negotiate her new identity, and realizes that she can no longer swim on her own in the beach, and that she cannot ride her bike.
Whilst the children are acutely aware of a sense of loneliness owing to their suffering, London suggests that their suffering also gives them an intuitive insight into the beauty of the world.
Sullivan admits, “at last I’m learning how to life” as he seeks to value the beauty of each day. Even Sullivan’s “onset story” had a “sort of beauty” wherein he saw the sun through his glasses (30) Sullivan also said “coming to terms with death is a necessary element in any great poem” (19)
Sullivan emphasises the beauty in ordinary things and in daily life. Poetically, Sullivan imagines what the nurse she might look like as she takes off her stockings. This is just one example of how he tries to turn everything into a moment of poetry, despite the moments of horror, pain and sadness From a poetic point of view, Sullivan impresses upon Frank that poems do not need to be epic or “heroic”. .
Ann Lee appreciates very intuitively the brumbies’ desire for water and she is desperate to help. For Elsa the sky and the sea become twin parental figures that provide solace. Elsa has two mother figures: her real mother and another which she thinks about often when looking at the sky and later contemplating the sea. “There was another mother waiting for her, blurred, gentle, beautiful as an angel, with an angel’s perfect understanding.” (11)
Family relationships: home away from home
The disease changes people’s lives and also changes family relationships. Many parents have to come to terms with the fact that their children are different and have special needs that in this case, mean that they may no longer be able to live in the family environment. Contrastingly, the institution becomes the family away from home and many children must look elsewhere for emotional support. The Golden Age hospice helps to supplant the feelings of love and belonging, but London shows, that in many ways, it can never completely become the other family.
This micro-cosm or home away from home is evident on Christmas Day, which Sister Penny explains, can be “very unsettling” as families struggle to cope with their emotions. Frank’s parents, Meyer and Ida, volunteer to help at the Golden Age. There is a strong sense of an expanded community, “this is the community we belong to now, Meyer thought” (112) It is a community that consists of the vulnerable and the suffering, “the humble of the earth. The halt and the lame.” Because of the strong bonds, everyone feels a sense of goodwill towards each other. London notes, “the children who celebrated Christmas at the Golden Age seemed much happier than those who returned at bedtime, exhausted, silent, distant and alone”. (117) This is because the sickness often sets them apart. Contrastingly, the sickness draws the sufferers together in the hospice.
When Elsa returns, Frank feels as if there is a sense that she had gone home to “found out she belonged here now, with him, not back with her family”. (117) It is upon her return that Frank acutely feels his yearning for his soulmate. London uses the analogy of a “homing” point, to suggest that she has become his point of refuge and his escape: a place to which he wants to return in order to anchor his emotions. (119)
“Being close made them stronger” (189)
As London points out, their relationship helps with their rehabilitation as they grow stronger together. Their intimacy provides the motivation to withstand the rigours of their rehabilitation and to deal with the “lonely task” and with the boredom. The physiotherapist comments on their “rapid progress and motivation” which is a consequence of their support and love for each other. Any separation from each other, transforms either into a symbolic “widow” as a sign of their love. Each of their separate life stories helps to further sustain them in their loneliness as they become acquainted with the intimate and very different details of their experiences. London comments, “the days were not long enough for all they had to tell each other”.
Likewise, Elsa finds that Frank eases the hardship associated with the difficulties of the disease. From the time she woke up, “they were waiting to rejoin each other” (187)
Whilst the home becomes a substitute place, it can never completely replace the emotional security of the family home.
There is also a change in family dynamics. Whilst Frank often feels the burden of being an only child of migrant parents, he feels that they have high expectations. However, he realises that polio changes/disrupts these family ties and his parents must re-evaluate their relationship with Frank and their emotional demands. He notes, that this experience will “teach” his parents “not to count on him for all their happiness”. (31). In a bid to separate himself, he notes, “I refuse to be their only light”.
- Elsa’s family has to deal with considerable stigma attached to polio.
- Frank’s parents have to deal with the shock of the disease after their own traumatic background/ war experiences.
- Frank’s sickness also exposes problems in the relationship between Meyer and Ida. His parents find some enjoyment on Frank’s first Christmas Day in the hospice, and there is a sense of “warmth in Meyer’s voice” as he comments on the day. But London also subtly suggests that this warmth also arises because of Meyer’s secret attraction to Sister Penny. “There is something rather special about her, she moves me in some way”. (124) This seems to be a pattern of desire whereby “there would always be others”.
Sense of family : comfort
There are many people who come together, who help each other, and who provide an alternative sense of family. The home often becomes the substitute home. If at times “they no longer belonged to their families”, they find sustenance in strangers., Strangers often take over nurturing roles, such as Julia who shields Frank from the Nazis. Frank also, in his old age, provides the same type of comfort and shelter for Edie.
Alternative, the sea and the sky also provide comfort and care – for Elsa The children see others in the home, as a mother-figure. They “long for” Moira, the physiotherapist”. 146
Whilst the children from a substitute home at the hospice, London also suggests that there are other ways that people find a sense of home, and this does not always come from a conventional setting. Community and sustenance often come from the kindness and generosity of strangers, and not necessarily from immediate families. Julia Marai becomes a substitute mother for Frank when he was four years old and the Jewish Golds are being hunted by the Arrow Cross in Hungary. (a Nazi group). Ida is amazed at Julia’s willingness to take the child. She has “no interest in little children”. In these times, kindness and unselfishness were as unexpected, as exhilarating, as genius. .. It was her (Ida’s) giftedness that save her.” In this case, Julia is happy to provide a favour for her star pupil.
Indulging in these memories of love and connectedness, Frank, working as an editor in New York, takes care of the eight-year-old Edie and showers her with the love that he was privileged to experience at the Golden Age. “Polio is like love”. It keeps returning. He renews the sense of (the substitute) family and the sense of community that he enjoyed at the Golden Age.
This sense of community is not just limited to the children, but extends to nurses who may suffer from a sense of difference. It also encompasses extended family members and parents who also fail to have a strong sense of belonging … . Ironically, as Jewish refugees from Hungary, the Golds find a strong sense of purpose and community in the Golden Age which helps to heal the pain of the migration experience. At Christmas, listening to Ida’s performance, Meyer realizes, “This is the community we belong to now” (112) After their small music concert in the Golden Age, Ida finds that Australians enjoy her performance. Ida gains a job in the gold club through this performance. She becomes optimistic and accept the new life in Australian. However, new-Australians created their own community to overcome the bad memory from the past. Likewise, Olive Penny, who also finds herself marginalized in her family life owing to her strong sense of independence also finds a secure sense of place within her role as nurse at the Golden Age. She leads an unconventional lifestyle, refusing to conform to the roles of a domestic housewife and mother. As a sexual partner to Tucker, she finds a degree of equality. Her role as nurse in the Golden Age, enables her to embrace her difference and find a sense of purpose. Olive ‘loved the freedom of choice’.
Coping with an acute sense of loneliness
Sullivan’s search for self through his poetry reflects the search of most of the patients in The Golden Age. Each child struggles in their own way to cope with the challenges of the disease which separates families and makes children acutely aware of their lonely place in the world. In his final poem, Sullivan writes, “I have to find myself, A place where I can breathe. That’s where poetry lives. In the oldest part of us”. Sullivan mediates the author’s view that each individual must cope with the loneliness of life and they have to find strategies to cope, or their vocation to support them. Every one, London suggests lives and dies alone and the polio sufferers are particularly aware of the pain of being an individual. (28).
Some children and family members fail to find a substitute sense of family and fail to find the emotional connections for which they are searching and which would sustain them.
Albert Sutton suffers from the separation from his family and wishes to return to the nurturing environment of his family. He was the youngest of six children in a family from England and yearned for their company. (117)
Struggling to cope in the hospice, Albert decides one day that “I’m takin’ myself off home” as he seeks to wheel himself down the corridor. Exerting himself to the limit, he pushes himself to the top of the hill, “pulling and pulling on the wheels, he managed to tack up the hill from one side to another”. However, Albert’s inability to climb the mountain is symbolized by his fall just as he reaches the top and the “chair fell on top of him”. His, is nevertheless, another heroic act among many.
Whilst Albert suffers the indignity of his own defeat, other parents often take their children home.
Sadly, Ann Lee who decides to “go to the city so she could learn to walk” does not attain her dream. Her father carries her into the Golden Age, because “she could only crawl and drag herself around”. Ann’s failure to help the group of horses find water leads to her determination that “she must never be so helpless again. She must always be able to give a drink to thirsty creatures.” (130)
In response to the “mysterious telepathic call” her father comes to collect her, and whilst she can make some tentative steps (“step after painstaking step she made her way to him”)/ 177), Sister Penny feels that her departure may cut short her chances of a true recovery (She believes that “Ann Lee was going to be lame.”) Upon her departure, Sister Penny entertains doubts about whether the home does offer the best chance for recovery. She feels a sense of defeat. She has a premonition that Annie will never be cured. “She would be known as a cripple. Crippled Annie. Annie the gimp.” (179). With her departure, following Albert’s, there is a sense that “At the Golden Age there was a general sense of loosening, of being left to one’s own devices”. Sister Penny laments (regrets) the forces that seem to undermine their sense of community. Anne seems happy to return to her family; as her father picks her up “she wasn’t smiling but a light had come on”. (Sister Penny was “less optimistic than she used to be”)
Despite their sense of difference and exclusion, the Golden Age also helps the children discover their hidden talents and nurtures their sensitivities (imagination) and their longing for love. Sullivan and Frank share a love for poetry and this love enables them to explore their loneliness and their strong sense of intuition. London suggests that their shared love of poetry, helps both Frank and Sullivan deal with their sense of suffering. discovers poetry with Sullivan in the hospice,… Likewise, this sense of suffering also adds a sense of poignancy into the romance that develops between Elsa and Frank and offers both a degree of solace and companionship and enable Frank to explore the true meaning of love (“polio is like love” as it keeps returning, even during unexpected moments. The life in the Golden Age starts to become a “mystery” and there is a sense of “glamour after Frank meets his muse”—Elsa. When he sees Elsa for the first time, “tears came to his eyes”. Elsa becomes increasingly his anchor and his sustenance. London describes her as “his homing point, the place he returned to,. His escape, his refuge, his Park. His river, his track.”
Contrastingly, their separation leads to a sense of loneliness and sadness. Frank feels that “he was lurking in a half-life”. His life becomes meaningless without Elsa and without his companions from the Golden Age. The light in Frank’s heart begins to dim.
Likewise, when Elsa returns home and looks at her “distorted” body in the mirror, she becomes acutely aware of her sense of difference and the loss of her once beautiful figure. During such times she yearns for Frank because, as a polio sufferer, he does not define her by what she sees as a sense of ugliness. The author uses the symbolism of the ship, to describe Elsa’s torn heart as she becomes separated from her life’s companion. She realizes that her life was “lone and perilous, a tiny ship in a great ocean.” “Like a bird with its wing broken”. London states, “from the moment she woke till she fell asleep at night she did nothing much else but think of Frank. She lived only for him.”
The Govenors of the home, also highlight another problem which is that, for many patients, there comes a time when they are simply “too old for the home”. The children often develop quickly because of their emotional maturity and this can cause relationship problems, as happens when Frank gets into Elsa’s bed and her “buttons came undone ‘by themselves’” and he “lay on top of you” (191).
A sense of vocation
London suggests that in many ways the polio is a marker of fate and those with the sickness have to deal with the hand that fate deals to them. She also suggests that the vocation of each contributes, strengthens and enlarges the character.
There is a further sense of vocation that comes from the experience of polio. Both Sullivan and Frank become aware of their poetic sensitivities.
Other characters such as Ida and Olive also carry a sense of vocation. Ida is a good pianist and plays … Olive also becomes the nurse because of her strong desire to care and nurture others.
London includes aspects of Ida’s past to set up important parallel experiences between the post-war difficulties experienced by Jews with the care and suffering/difference of those in the Golden Age (40) (Most of Frank’s relatives were murdered during the war, but he did not know them well. (34)
Ida asks of her star student, Julia a favour that saves their child’s life. During the fear and the separation that resulted from the second world war, Ida notes, “in these times kindness and unselfishness were as unexpected, as exhilarating as genius. “ (40) AS Ida states, “it was her giftedness that saved him” (40)
(Indulging in these memories of love and connectedness, Frank, working as an editor in New York, takes care of the eight-year-old Edie and showers her with the love that he was privileged to experience at the Golden Age. “Polio is like love”. It keeps returning. He renews the sense of (the substitute) family and the sense of community that he enjoyed at the Golden Age. )
London depicts Sullivan as a mentor who impresses Frank with his spirited and poetic attitude towards life which helps him withstand the worst aspects of the debilitating disease.
Sullivan Backhouse assumes the “role of teacher” and Frank becomes the “apprentice”. “Till now he’d hardly given poetry a moment’s thought”. He learns that poetry does not have to be “heroic” but it would be about “personal things” and in particular Sullivan helps Frank to think about his illness from a poetic perspective and to reflect upon the concept of loneliness. Realising that poetry does not have to “strut about”, it could be “personal” and could sound like someone speaking”.
Frank uses his poems and his imagination to escape the debilitating effects of illness and to explore the idea of a life of the mind despite his weakened, caged body. Frank is writing his last long poem : “On My Last Day on Earth” which symbolises his attitude to life and death. London suggests that a person suffering from a debilitating sickness, often feels the urgency and the brevity of life more acutely than others. Sullivan admits, “at last I’m learning how to life” as he seeks to value the beauty of each day. Even Sullivan’s “onset story” had a “sort of beauty” wherein he saw the sun through his glasses (30)
Poetically, Sullivan imagines very specifically a particular moment of loneliness in the nurse’s life, to the extent that he imagines what she might look like as she takes off her stockings. This is just one example of how he tries to turn everything into a moment of poetry, despite the moments of horror, pain and sadness
From a poetic point of view, Sullivan impresses upon Frank that poems do not need to be epic or “heroic”. . War-time poets such as Owen and Sassoon write about everyday people in everyday situations and this has a big impact upon Frank. By citing the poetry of significant British war poets such as Sassoon, Owen and Rosenberg, Sullivan sets him a comparison between the poets who focus on the every-day suffering of people to focus on life’s key challenges and key insights.
As the “teacher”, Sullivan explains to his “apprentice”, his admiration for the British war poets, such as Sassoon, Rosenberg and Owen. His views reflect London’s point that extreme moments of suffering can yield key insights about life. As Sullivan points out, these war-time poets wrote about “the experience of soldiers like themselves in simple, everyday language.” These soldiers were also in “hospital. Especially in hospital”, which sets up a comparison between the suffering of the polio victims with that of the soldiers. Most importantly, suffering provides the chance of intense freedom, which becomes possible as the sufferer surmounts their condition and lets the imagination soar.
In The Golden Age, not only do the children find a sense of belonging, but they also often find love and inspiration. AS Else and Frank increasingly share their stories, and become ever more intimate, Frank finds the inspiration to write the poems that detail his “long journey” and his desire to find a place he can “truly feel at home”.
Owing to their love and intimacy, Frank increasingly lives in a poetic world which he calls the “Third Country” and to which he dedicates a series of poems. In these poems he discusses the “long journey he had made to find her” and he freely imagines a life elsewhere with Elsa. He imagines a country with few rules and where he could “finally feel at home”. He writes, “you are the first inhabitant /I meet /In this new country”
His set of poems will be about “the two devils, war and polio that had brought it about and the two angels, love and poetry that had saved him”. 189
Strength and Determination
London also suggests that heroism comes in many different ways, but many of her characters find a strong sense of purpose and quiet sense of resilience. According to London, when Julia agrees to shelter the young Frank, she shows an example of true heroism which “lay in acquiescing to this intrusion into their peace together, the decades-long sweetness of their routine.”
According to Julia, “talent was not enough”. “You must find the grip, the hunger, the small, determined child inside you. You must have a certain ruthlessness to win, as if by right.” (42) Frank later thinks that he can “overcome any hardship because he had a vocation.”
Ida Meyer asked Julia to care for Frank in their hour of need because she knew that she would be unable to go “into the cellar beneath the apartments”, which would expose Frank’s presence and jeopardise his chances of survival in a world dominated by Nazis hunting Jews. Julia’s presence is a “lucky omen” and a blessing (44). He was their “secret”. “Something that you never tell, you never show”.
This unlikely “family” survived because of Hedwiga’s strength and courage and resourcefulness. Hedigwa, who also shows that intuitive sense of poetic sensitivity (like Sister Penny) carried Julia down the five flights of stairs from the apartment and foraged for food. Thanks to her courage and foresight, Frank survives whereas, “apart from two of Meyer’s five siblings, he and Ida had lost everyone in their families.” Likewise, when Ida plays the piano at the Christmas concert, Frank notices her “strength and determination” (165)
Teachers and pupils
Sullivan teaches Frank how to write poetry and “how to live”: Sullivan becomes the mentor for Frank and helps Frank find his “vocation”. Frank pays tribute to Sullivan, especially through the book he eventually publishes. Frank, a person “who spoke about feelings” published a book on Sullivan Backhouse, called Polio and the Poet . He notes that “Sullivan had opened a door where everything had meaning”.
The “vocation” refers to Frank’s ability to turn his insights into poetry. He has deeper insights into life and suffering because of his polio and Sullivan helps him to turn these into moments of poetry. As testimony to Sullivan’s mentorship, Frank publishes a book called the Golden Age, which includes his poems on children who are recovering from polio .. His set of poems will be about “the two devils, war and polio that had brought it about and the two angels, love and poetry that had saved him”. 189 . In his interview, Jack wonders why “the poet says that he learnt everything he knows there” (in the Golden Age). 238 .. Frank’s insights that he turns into poetry revolve around the nature of kindness and “unselfishness” and about dealing with loneliness and life. In the Third Country, he writes about true freedom, and freely imagines a life elsewhere with Elsa. He imagines a country with few rules and where he could “finally feel at home”. He writes, “you are the first inhabitant /I meet /In this new country”. He writes about seeing beauty in ordinary things,
Described as a “radiant warrior” (202), Elsa also has a certain toughness that is evident both during her experiences at the home and afterwards. She refuses to blame Frank for her sexual indiscretions and later her own son, Jack, follows his mother to the beach and watches her scrambling up the dunes, and stumbling. He knows that “the rule was that nothing was ever too much for her” (236 “His mother is tough”)
Olive “teaches” Myer “how to live”
Olive Penny and Meyer Gold also share a special relationship which has many hidden meanings. They intuitively feel a strong bond, based on mutual attraction. AS a mark of respect, Meyer tells her “I learnt from you”, “how to live” (210). He respects her quiet sense of determination and her sense of freedom to have the courage to live without social constraints and to be kind and generous. If “illness is humbling”, Olive is a humble and quiet teacher who instructs her patients through her strong sense of purpose and generous spirit. London suggests that she shares with the patients a sense of intuition “Illness is humbling”, illness also becomes a teacher and illness gives those who are curious and who suffer greater insights into life and death. So close are they at times that London suggests “an invisible thread had been broken” between them (183). Penny shares with the patients a strong sense of intuition which Tucker notices, and she has a sense in her absence that Frank and Elsa may indulge their love. Tucker notes, “long ago he’d learnt to respect her intuitions” .
Sister Penny pays tribute to Ida’s enormous talent and believes that the Golds had brought “something new into her life”; “the different way they saw things” (163) , AT the concert, Ida shines as she plays Mozart, Schumann and Schubert. “Nobody had ever heard anything like it” and Sister Penny6 honours her guest as everyone but the children stand and cheer. 165