Words in Pain: Letters on Life and Death

“These wonderful letters prove that true immortality lies in what we leave behind. For those of us who cannot accept the consolation of religion, they provide a sane and comforting view of how to live and, more importantly, die. They bear reading and re-reading and teach us how to live even when in the shadow of death. A feminist, rational and heartening voice about the big stuff-life and death.” Sandi Toksvig “This remarkable book charts the difficult journey of an intelligent and enlightened young woman, as she approaches her inevitable death with optimism, generosity and wit. It is stimulating, moving, profound, and extremely enjoyable.” Mike Leigh “Words in Pain is an epistolary treasure trove. By turns funny, touching, and intensely sad, Olga’s letters muse on timeless questions about the nature of life, love and death-questions which resonate powerfully today.” Cathy Newman First published posthumously in 1919, Words in Pain represents the collected letters of Olga Jacoby-writer, thinker and rationalist. Writing to her Christian doctor as she endures the emotional highs and lows of terminal illness, she challenges his beliefs and celebrates the power of science, nature and love: “Science is turning on the light, but at every step forward dogmatic religion attempts to turn it out.” Her children appear in vivid colour: “I was greatly amused by my boy explaining to me … that even should I die they would not lose me, as they would take my skeleton to keep in a corner of their nursery.” As heart-breaking as they are erudite, Jacoby’s letters reveal a progressive attitude to child-rearing and adoption, as well as a passionate commitment to moral logic and social justice. They show her to be as strong of mind as she was increasingly weak in body, and a woman both of and ahead of her time. Praised by the Times Literary Supplement of 1919 for its “clear-eyed and exalted spirit”, Words in Pain now appears in a new centenary edition, with extensive supplementary notes on its many literary and socio-historical references and an afterword contextualising Jacoby’s extraordinary life and the controversial circumstances of her death.

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