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Monday, 17 June 2013

Understanding how people used to understand

We know that many of the children that Clara Lehrs used to shelter at the house on Schellberg Street were Downs Syndrome. We also know that at that time people didn’t call them that, nor did they know as much about the condition as we do today. It’s possible, actually, though, that the anthroposophists understood them a little better than the rest of the people at the time and it may have been exactly this condition that the teachers and healers at the Lauenstein were working with a lot whilst Clara was housekeeper there.  
I worried a little about which word I was going to use to describe the children in this book. Should I use the modern one or the one used at the time? Would it be unrealistic if I used the modern one? Would it make Clara sound crass if she used the old one?
Then I realised that Clara is definitely not the sort of person to label anyone. Part of her character I need to illustrate is that she sees and brings out the best in everyone.
Quite probably Kurt, who was instrumental in getting her to accept the position at the Lauenstein, is Downs Syndrome. I’m currently writing the final scenes of Clara’s time at that institution. Kurt actually becomes quite a spiritual mentor to her. Although she will be leaving him shortly I’m going to have her remember his words of wisdom from time to time, including in the all-important last scene.
I realise now don’t have to label these children at all in the book. Neither will the people who work with them. I need to show the reader them, not tell the reader about them. I can of course do some research into the qualities found in such children and how they were handled at the time Clara was with them, particularly by those associated with the Steiner Foundation. Maybe Clara might even have some insights that were ahead of her time.     

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