Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes - NEW Novel
The ideas for Flowers for Algernon developed over a period of 14 years and were inspired by numerous different events in Keyes' life, starting in 1945 with Keyes' personal conflict between his parents pushing him through a pre-medical education and his own desire to write. Keyes felt that his education was driving a wedge between him and his parents and this led him to wonder what would happen if it were possible to increase a person’s intelligence. Another key moment came in 1957, while Keyes was teaching English to students with special needs; one student asked him if it would be possible to be put into a regular class if he worked hard and became smart. Different characters in the book were also based on events and people in Keyes' life. The character of Algernon was inspired by a university dissection class, while the name came from the poet Algernon Swinburne which Keyes thought was an unusual name. Nemur and Strauss, the scientists who develop the intelligence enhancing surgery in the story, were based on professors Keyes met while studying psychoanalysis in graduate school.
In 1958, Keyes was approached by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine to write a story, at which point the different elements of Flowers for Algernon fell into place. On submitting the finished story to Galaxy, however, the editor suggested changing the ending so that Charlie retained his intelligence, married Alice, and lived happily ever after. Keyes refused to make the change and sold the story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction instead Keyes worked on the expanded novel between 1962 and 1965 and first tried to sell it to Doubleday, but they also wanted to change the ending. Again, Keyes refused and gave Doubleday back their advance.Five different publishers rejected the story over the course of a year until it was taken on and published by Harcourt in 1966.
The novel opens with an epigraph discouraging people from laughing at those who are perplexed or weak of vision. The epigraph is taken from Plato's The Republic, part of which reads:
“ Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye. ”
At the start of the novel, Charlie Gordon is a 32-year-old man with an IQ of 68 who works as a janitor and deliveryman for Donner's Bakery. His uncle got him a job there 17 years previously so that Charlie would not have to be sent to an institution, the Warren State Home. Wanting to improve himself, Charlie attends reading and writing classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults; his instructor is Alice Kinnian, a young, attractive woman. Professor Nemur and Doctor Strauss, two Beekman researchers, are looking for a human subject on whom they can test an experimental surgical technique for increasing intelligence. They have already performed the surgery on a mouse named Algernon, leading to a dramatic improvement in his mental performance. Based on Alice's recommendation and his own motivation to learn, Charlie is picked to undergo the surgery. The procedure is a success and, three months later, Charlie's IQ has reached 185.However, as his intelligence, education and understanding of the world around him increases, his relationships with people deteriorate. His coworkers at the bakery, who used to amuse themselves at his expense, are now scared and resentful of his increased intelligence; he is fired from his job as a result. Charlie also embarks on a troubled romance with Alice. Even though they develop strong feelings for each other, he is prevented from having a physical relationship by the spectre of a younger Charlie whom the older Charlie feels is always watching. Unable to get close to Alice, Charlie starts a purely sexual relationship with Fay Lillman, a vivacious and promiscuous artist.
Charlie discovers a flaw in the theories that led Nemur and Strauss to develop their intelligence-enhancing procedure. Shortly thereafter, Algernon starts behaving erratically, loses his new intelligence, and dies. As Charlie does further research, he determines that he too will inevitably revert to his old condition. He tries to mend the broken relationships with his parents, without success. His mother, who always insisted he could learn normally, now suffers from dementia and does not recognize him; his father long ago broke off contact with the family out of frustration and also does not realize who he is. Charlie is only able to reconnect with his sister, who hated him for his mental disability when they were growing up.
As Charlie regresses intellectually, Fay becomes scared by the change and stops talking to him. However, Charlie finally attains sufficient emotional maturity to have a brief but fulfilling relationship with Alice. Despite regressing back to his former self, he still remembers that he was once a genius and cannot bear everyone feeling sorry for him. Consequently, he decides to go to live at the Warren State Home where nobody knows about the operation. In a final postscript to his writings, he asks that someone put flowers on Algernon's grave.
About the Author Daniel Keyes
At age 17, Daniel Keyes joined the U.S. Maritime Service as ship's purser. He obtained a B.A. in psychology from Brooklyn College, and after a stint in fashion photography (partner in a photography studio), earned a Master's degree in English and American literature at night while teaching English in New York City public schools during the day and writing weekends. In the early 1950s, he was editor of the pulp magazine Marvel Science Fiction for publisher Martin Goodman, who also published the comic book lines Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, the 1940s and 1950s precursors, respectively, of Marvel Comics. After Goodman ceased publishing pulps in favor of paperback books and men's adventure magazines, Keyes became associate editor of Atlas Comics, under editor-in-chief and art director Stan Lee. Circa 1952, Keyes was one of several staff writers, officially titled editors, who wrote for such horror and science fiction comics as Journey into Unknown Worlds, for which Keyes wrote two stories with artist Basil Wolverton. From 1955-56, Keyes wrote for the celebrated EC Comics, including its titles Shock Illustrated and Confessions Illustrated, under both his own name and the pseudonyms Kris Daniels, A.D. Locke and Dominik Georg.
The short story and subsequent novel, Flowers for Algernon, is written as the diary of a mentally disabled man, Charlie, who undergoes experimental surgery and briefly becomes a genius before the effects tragically wear off. The story was initially published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The title character is a mouse that had undergone the surgery first. The story won the science fiction field's Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction. The novel, which added several new story threads including a sexual relationship between Charlie and his former teacher, was joint winner of the Nebula Award in 1966. The novel has been adapted several times for other media, most prominently as the 1968 film Charly, starring Cliff Robertson (who won an Academy Award for Best Actor) and Claire Bloom.
Keyes went on to teach creative writing at Wayne State University, and in 1966 became an English and creative writing professor at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, where he was honored as a professor emeritus in 2000. A 1988 edition of his novel Flowers for Algernon states he was a member of the English department at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, circa that year. This was an error in a special leatherbound collector's edition.Keyes' other books include Fifth Sally, The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Touch, Unveiling Claudia, and the memoir Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey.
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes - NEW Novel
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