Cover image for The little locksmith : a memoir
The little locksmith : a memoir
Hathaway, Katharine Butler, 1890-1942.
First Feminist Press edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 258 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Coward-McCann, 1942.
Geographic Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3515.A8615 L5 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Little Locksmith, Katharine Butler Hathaway's luminous memoir of disability, faith, and transformation, is a critically acclaimed but largely forgotten literary classic brought back into print for the first time in thirty years. The Little Locksmith begins in 1895 when a specialist straps five-year-old Katharine, then suffering from spinal tuberculosis, to a board with halters and pulleys in a failed attempt to prevent her being a "hunchback." Her mother says that she should be thankful that her parents are able to have her cared for by a famous surgeon; otherwise, she would grow up to be like the "little locksmith," who does jobs at their home; he has a "strange, awful peak in his back." Forced to endure "a horizontal life of night and day," Katharine remains immobile until age fifteen, only to find that she, too, has a hunched back and is "no larger than a ten-year-old child." The Little Locksmith charts Katharine's struggle to transcend physical limitations and embrace her life, her body and herself in the face of debilitating bouts of frustration and shame. Her spirit and courage prevail, and she succeeds in expanding her world far beyond the boundaries prescribed by her family and society: she attends Radcliffe College, forms deep friendships, begins to write, and in 1921, purchases a house of her own in Castine, Maine. There she creates her home, room by room, fashioning it as a space for guests, lovers, and artists. The Little Locksmith stands as a testimony to Katharine's aspirations and desires-for independence, for love, and for the pursuit of her art. "We tend to forget nowadays that there is more than one variety of hero (and heroine). Katharine Butler Hathaway, who died last Christmas Eve, was the kind of heroine whose deeds are rarely chronicled. They were not spectacular and no medal would have been appropriate for her. All she did was to take a life which fate had cast in the mold of a frightful tragedy and redesign it into a quiet, modest work of art. The life was her own. "When Katharine Butler was five, she fell victim to spinal tuberculosis. For ten years she was strapped to a board (that means one hundred and twenty months, an infinity of days and hours and minutes)

Author Notes

Katharine Butler Hathaway (1890-1942) grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. After attending Radcliffe College, she lived and wrote in Maine, and later in New York City and Paris, where she was a part of the vibrant artists' culture of the 1920s. In the early 1930s she returned to Maine with her husband. The Little Locksmith was published a year after her death

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Upon its original publication in 1943, Hathaway's testament to a full life despite debilitating disease earned glowing reviews and became a bestsellerÄand then dropped utterly out of sight. Rediscovered by the Feminist Press, this remarkably un-self-pitying book remains poignant and truthful. As a child in Salem, Mass., Hathaway was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis and, in the most advanced treatment of the time, was strapped to a board from head to toe and kept immobile for 10 years. During this period of enforced introversion, she developed astonishing inner resources and imagination, and a meticulous appreciation for life's details that would inform her work. When she regained mobility at age 15, she found her disability a forbidden topic and realized that a "deformed" girl was automatically expected to become a spinster aunt, forever dependent on her family for love and companionship. Hathaway heartily rebelled, moving and buying herself a large clapboard house in Maine, where she proceeded with the business of living. Hathaway treats the actual events in her life as practically irrelevant: the story she emphasizes is her spiritual and creative struggle to claim "selfish" time to write, her intense loneliness, her startlingly frank observations about her sexuality and her rebellion against the belief that an imperfect person does not experience desire. Hathaway's simple descriptions of the writing process are beautiful and on the mark. We're left wishing for the planned second and third volumes, which Hathaway did not have time to write before her death in 1942. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Alix Kates ShulmanNancy Mairs
Forewordp. vii
The Song of Transformationsp. xiii
1. An island in my fate linep. 1
2. I decide to be a writerp. 4
3. Discovering my housep. 6
4. The little locksmithp. 12
5. Childhood delightsp. 16
6. Our return from Stowep. 26
7. Night horrorsp. 31
8. Mother's sorrowp. 36
9. I find my brotherp. 42
10. With Warren in Danversp. 47
11. My small poemsp. 58
12. Warren's friendsp. 60
13. A crucial instinctp. 68
14. The town of Castinep. 70
15. My friend Maryp. 86
16. A way of lifep. 95
17. Good neighborsp. 101
18. My house and landp. 112
19. The sun and airp. 127
20. A house for artistsp. 135
21. A house for childrenp. 152
22. Two river daysp. 166
23. At Radeliffep. 176
24. God within mep. 186
25. A house for loversp. 194
26. The very bright childp. 202
27. Restoring the housep. 206
28. My boundariesp. 216
29. I throw away the boatp. 220
Epilogue: The rest is waitingp. 229
Afterwordp. 239