Deborah Yaffe

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A Janeite recovers

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 17 2020 01:00PM

Earlier this summer, it looked like COVID would take the life of a seventy-three-year-old British lawyer named Geoff Woolf. During his long, lonely hospital stay, which included months on a ventilator, his adult sons had tried to keep him stimulated with audiobooks, especially one longtime favorite: Pride and Prejudice.


But along the way, Woolf suffered a massive virus-induced stroke, and his prospects seemed dim; he remained in a coma even after coming off the ventilator, and doctors told his children that it was time to say goodbye. His sons had begun imagining a legacy that would include Books for Dad, a venture dedicated to providing other recovering COVID patients with audiobooks.


To the astonishment of his medical team, however, Woolf eventually woke up, and earlier this month he was released from the hospital after a 127-day stay. For a lot of that time, Jane Austen was on hand to assist his recovery.


“After he started to wake up, he was obviously quite confused. Pride and Prejudice was playing on repeat, and he wouldn’t accept being switched onto anything else,” his son Nicky Woolf, a journalist, told a BBC radio show (story begins at 36:36). “He’s now able to basically recite the whole thing from memory.”


Geoff can’t remember his coma, so it’s unclear how much Austen he absorbed while he was unconscious.


“I like the idea that that was the world that his mind could go to—certainly, rather than the reality of what was happening,” said another Woolf son, Sam, an actor. “Better to be in a fiction, for sure.”


Books for Dad is moving ahead, with the brothers hoping to hand out five thousand audiobook-equipped Kindle e-readers and expand into one new hospital a week for the next twenty-five to thirty weeks.


Meanwhile, Geoff’s audiobook diet has diversified: As he tackles the hard work of recovering from his stroke, he’s now listening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


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