Sense of the World (Roberts)

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for A Sense of the World:

1. Start with Holman's blindness, the first remarkable fact about him (which made the second fact, his globetrotting, all the more remarkable). What was his reaction to his loss of sight? What would be yours? What inner strengths must Holman have drawn upon?

2. How did society/people treat Holmes when he first began to travel? Might his experiences be instructive to us today—in terms of how we treat blind people? Have you ever had a personal experience with someone who is blind? How'd it go?

3. Talk about the method Holman used to move about independently—tapping his cane to produce sound and echo. How was he able to decode the sounds to determine his surroundings? Does the fact that blindness often enhances the faculty of hearing explain Holmes's achievements—or is there something else at work here?

4. Why would Holman have refused his brother's offer to accompany him on his travels. What would your decision have been?

5. Would the fact that Holman traveled at the turn of the 19th century, when the world was not so peopled, travel not so rapid, have made his travels as a blind man easier or more difficult than today?

6. At one point, Holman quipped: "while vision gulps, tactility sips." What does he mean by this?

7. Holman's comment above suggests that not seeing can yield a richer sensation than seeing. On the other hand, Edmund Burke—who insisted that "no smells or tastes can produce a grand sensation" like that of sight"—seems to imply that a sightless person is not fully developed. Care to discuss the differences in opinion? And while you're at it: if an evil genie forced you to choose between one or the other, which would it be—blindness or deafness?

8. How did Holman make use of his sociable nature to help himself out of difficult, even dangerous, situations.

9. Which of his adventures do you find most astonishing: his ascent of Vesuvius, his attempt to cross Siberia, his work in Fernando Po hunting slavers...or any of his other exploits?

10. To what do you attribute the scorn leveled at Holman, and the eventual neglect of his books? What prompted Captain Chochrane's villification against him?

11. Does Roberts give us an objective biography? Or is he overly biased in favor of his subject? In other words, has he fallen under his Holman's spell? Does it matter?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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