Casehistory EBH

The Poet: U. A. Fanthorpe (1929−2009) was an English teacher for many
years before changing her career to work in a neuropsychiatric ward of a
hospital in Bristol.
It was here that she also began to write the poetry for which she achieved
huge critical acclaim. ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’ is from Side
Effects, her first poetry collection published in 1978, and is part of a pair –
the other part being ‘Casehistory: Julie (encephalitis)’.
The poem allows the reader to consider how fragile life is and gives a voice
to those who suffer an unexpected accident – in this way there is a sense
of a universal message as such an accident can happen to any of us.
Autocratic = an autocrat is someone who is a
dictator and who rules by his own power. An
autocratic knee means that before her head
injury she could control her physical
A Degas dancer’s =
Degas was a 19th century
French painter whose
paintings of ballet
dancers show them as
graceful and slim. The
allusion in the poem
suggests that Alison was
like one of them before
her head injury
The title is ironic seen as Alison cannot
remember anything about her past
The character in the poem
The title makes it sound like the poem is her
medical record, the way her injury is in
brackets seems clinical and heartless – as if
this is now part of her and it defines her.
Fanthorpe gives her back her voice.
About: The poem is about Alison, a woman who has suffered brain
damage after an accident. Her memory has been badly affected. Alison
looks at a photograph of her younger self and talks about the person in it as
if she were someone else. Although her memory has been affected, her
vocabulary and understanding are still impressive. However, the narrator is
far removed from the woman in the photograph taken before the accident.
The Alison of today has one advantage over the Alison of the past: today's
brain-damaged woman knows what lies ahead for the woman in the
Themes: loss, bitterness, the fragility of life, appearance Vs reality
Tone: wistful, bitter and confused, downcast but fond of her former self
and she admires her, pathos (a quality that arouses feelings of pity,
sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow)
Language features
The poem is set out as nine three line stanzas and closes with
a single line – the many short sentences show Alison takes
her time and speaks slowly. The three line stanzas could
mimic the stuttered speech and thoughts of Alison now.
(She looks at her photograph)
The poem is a dramatic
monologue and this tells the
reader it is from a female
perspective – we assume ‘she’
is Alison a character created
by the poet who narrates the
She can’t
remember the
person she used
to be
Alison is talking about herself. The use of the
third person demonstrates her sense of loss.
I would like to have known
My husband’s wife, my mother’s only
A bright girl she was.
These lines are
puzzling and cryptic,
she play with her
sense of identity as if it
is a struggle
‘was’ in the last line sounds awkward. This
is so that we recognise that Alison is
struggling to remember the past and her
own identity.
In the present, Alison is a changed
person. The words ‘enmeshed’ and
‘comforting’ suggests emotional
and physical pain.
Enmeshed in comforting
Fat, I wonder at her delicate angles.
Her autocratic knee
In the past, it is clear in this stanza
that she was dainty ‘delicate’ and that
her joints did what she wanted. The
mention of the ‘autocratic knee’
suggests that Alison had power over
her movement.
The are examples of juxtaposition
throughout the poem. Additionally,
her mental dysfunction is shown
through the way she refers to her
former self in the third person – using
‘she’ and ‘her’ . The poet wants to
show the difference between her past
and present.
Like a Degas dancer’s
Adjusts to the observer with airy poise,
That now lugs me upstairs
Simile to compare the way she
looks now to before – shows
she was graceful this contrasts
with the word ‘lugs’ which gives
the impression she has to drag
herself up the stairs now and is
no longer in control of her
body. The contrasting images
are also an example of
The use of enjambment suggests
grace and fluidity of the remembered
In contrast the use of enjambment in
line 9 and 10 highlights the difference
between then and now.
Enjambment delays the word
‘hardly’ which emphasises a tone of
bitterness but also represents her
fragmented thought process
Hardly. Her face, broken
By nothing sharper than smiles, holds in its
What I have forgotten.
The repetition of smiles suggests she
is fascinated with the expression
A metaphor is used here to show
that Alison feels broken now. The
words ‘broken’ and ‘smiles’ are
another example of juxtaposition
which show how Alison has been
affected by the accident
Alison talks about her father’s death. It seems
to have happened before her own injury
because she detects in the smile in the
photograph a sense that she had ‘digested
mourning’, or got used to the sadness she felt
She knows my father’s dead,
And grieves for it, and smiles. She has
Mourning. Her smile shows it.
The poet uses language of loss
‘grieves’, ‘mourning’, ‘dead’ to
show that Alison grieves for the
loss of her family members, her
former self and the loss of her
A metaphor is used to show the
Alison in the photo has dealt
with her father’s death. It
suggests the present Alison
can’t she is trapped in an
endless cycle of grief. There is a
sense of envy here.
The word morning links with the
homophone ‘mourning’ suggesting a
connection, perhaps as she mourns
from waking.
I, who need reminding
Every morning, shall never get over what
I do not remember.
She will never get over – or be healed
from her accident – which she can’t
remember – this adds to the pathos of
her situation.
This could suggest that she has to
live a heavily structured life now
because she can no longer think for
Consistency matters.
I should like to keep faith with her lack of faith,
But forget her reasons.
Faith is a word we associate
with religion. This seems to
suggest that Alison’s younger
self did not believe in God. This
is appropriate as this kind of
injury is what forces us to
question our belief in God.
Proud of this younger self,
I assert her achievements, her A levels,
Her job with a future.
The longer line often describes her
past self, showing she feels that her
past self is more interesting and
worthy of notice.
Her younger self had enormous
potential – a future which has now
been lost as she no longer has that
sense of self.
This oxymoron intensifies the pathos
of her former self’s ignorance at what
the future has in store for her.
This stanza is ironic because the one
thing the speaker does know is that her
former self will have to live with a head
Poor clever girl! I know,
For all my damaged brain, something she
I am her future.
She will remain trapped
like this forever.
There is a tone of
acceptance here and regret.
The last line stands isolated at the end
of the poem like Alison is isolated from
life by her brain damage. The line is
strongly foregrounded and made
more powerful by the knowledge of
what Alison used to be.
A bright girl she was.
The are contrasts throughout the
poem, her mental dysfunction is
shown through the way she refers to
her former self in the third person –
using ‘she’ and ‘her’ . The differing
tenses are confusing and give an
insight into how Alison feels.
Alison is a patient recovering from an head injury. She is suffering from loss of
memory. There is a sense of pathos and wistfulness as she looks at a photo and
remembers her former self.
Examples of juxtaposition; simile; language of loss; oxymoron; metaphor.
Contrasts throughout shown through use of 3rd and 1st person; enjambment;
balanced and regular structure; tercets; longer line in the middle of the tercet;
repetition of final line.
Dramatic monologue; narrator is Alison
Sense of irony in the title; medical reference; clinical wording suggests Alison
has been reduced to a head injury.
Dramatic monologues/ Change:
Sense of personal identity:
‘The Clown Punk’
‘Checking Out me History’
Sense of isolation:
‘The Hunchback in the Park’
Sense of loss:
‘On a Portrait of a Deaf Man’