Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing
by Panthea Reid
“We surprised everyone with our vows: to be married only ‘so long as love shall last.'”
In Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing, biographer Panthea Reid tells the story of her love affair with her husband, John Fischer, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Jonathan Swift scholar. Until John’s sudden death in 2015, they shared a four-decades-long love affair and literary partnership.
Body and Soul unveils their deep romantic bond that began in the halls of Louisiana State University, where Reid and Fischer met in 1974. Two years later, they were married.
Reid traces their rich literary partnership and shares their scholarly travels in pursuit of academic research. While Reid weaves her way from William Faulkner to Virginia Woolf to Tillie Olsen, John deepens his expertise on his lifelong scholarly subject, Jonathan Swift.
Together they built a family with Panthea’s son, Reid, from a previous marriage and their daughter, Hannah. Through the ups and downs of academic life and its attendant politics, Panthea and John’s love for each other, for literature, and for their family deepened and grew.
After retiring from their teaching professions, the couple moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Panthea had by now completed biographies of Virginia Woolf and would complete another on Tillie Olsen. John pursued his Swift research, eventually taking up the project of completing the manuscript of Swift’s Word-Book–a dictionary Swift created for a female companion named Esther Johnson.
Reid narrates the shock of her husband’s untimely death and shares the painful, sometimes amusing, always heartfelt story of her journey toward healing, during which she began writing again and also took up the task of completing the Word-Book, John’s final, unfinished project, continuing their literary partnership even after his death. With a list of suggested resources, Body and Soul provides a roadmap for those also suffering from loss and grief. Despite the heartbreak, Reid’s story ultimately celebrates life and the power of love.
About the Author: Panthea Reid
Panthea Reid has been an NEH Fellow, a Fulbright lecturer, an Honorary Fellow of Birkbeck College, University of London, and President of the South Central MLA. She holds a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is Emerita Professor of English at Louisiana State University.
Reid is the author of Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf (Oxford, 1996), called “a sensitive and meticulous biography” by Library Journal and which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Dubbed a “biographic bombshell,” Reid’s biography Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles (Rutgers, 2009), earned another starred review in Publishers Weekly and was called a “richly textured history” by Forward and “a marvelously evocative book” by The Advocate.
After the death of her husband, Jonathan Swift scholar John Irwin Fischer in 2015, Panthea wrote Body and Soul, a memoir about their life together and the reflections of his sudden death as well as sound advice and resources for those dealing with grief and loss. During this time, Panthea finished for John his last work, which also appears to be the last work of Jonathan Swift to reach publication. Swift’s Word-Book, edited by Arch Elias and John Fischer, was accepted for publication by University of Delaware Press right at the time she finished Body and Soul.