Life Is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing

Helen Keller? Van Wyck Brooks? Apocryphal?

keller09Dear Quote Investigator: An inspirational adage encouraging boldness and audacity has been attributed to Helen Keller who overcame great adversity:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Is this accurate?

Quote Investigator: Helen Keller did write a closely matching statement; however, the appended phrase “at all” was not present in the original text.

In 1940 Keller published “Let Us Have Faith” and a chapter titled “Faith Fears Not” contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1956 the literary critic Van Wyck Brooks published a short biographical sketch of Helen Keller that included the adage. When the book by Brooks was examined in “The New York Times” the reviewer printed Keller’s remark and mentioned other works written by Keller: 2

Miss Keller’s “The World I Live In” and “Out of the Dark,” Mr. Brooks notes, continued to proclaim her faith that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” She carried her faith into action. “In time,” Mr. Brooks goes on to say, “this made Helen Keller one of the great spirits of the world, as simply and manifestly great as the grass is green. . .”

When the “The Christian Science Monitor” reviewed the biography by Brooks in 1956 it displayed the maxim with a banner headline on the top of page eleven: 3

‘Life is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing.’—Helen Keller

In 1961 the widely-distributed Sunday newspaper supplement “Parade” magazine printed an inquiry about the quotation in a feature called “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade”. The response correctly ascribed the saying to Keller: 4

Q. Who is the author of the statement: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”?–N. Adams, San Diego, Calif.
A. Helen Keller.

In 1980 “Business Quarterly: Canada’s Management Journal” printed a version of the saying with the phrase “at all” appended. No attribution was provided: 5

For years, Robert A Dods, a senior partner with Hickling-Johnston Ltd had admired the motto Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

In 1984 an article in a Texas newspaper about vacation packages with strenuous activities such as bicycling and canoeing mentioned the version of the saying with “at all” appended. The expression was attributed to Keller: 6

Clearly, more and more Americans are concurring with Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And they’re turning from poolside to countryside for more exciting and challenging vacations.

In conclusion, the maxim can properly be ascribed to Helen Keller. QI suggests employing the version in the 1940 citation and omitting the phrase “at all”.

Image Notes: Portrait of Helen Keller from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Helen Keller as a child with her tutor Anne Sullivan from the New England Historic Genealogical Society via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to Clarke Dougherty whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1946 (1940 Copyright), Let Us Have Faith by Helen Keller, Chapter: Faith Fears Not, Quote Page 50 and 51, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans of 1946 reprint of 1940 edition)
  2. 1956 March 24, New York Times, Books of The Times by Charles Poore, (Book review of Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait by Van Wyck Brooks), Quote Page 17, Column 5 and 6, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1956 March 29, Christian Science Monitor, ‘Life Is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing’—Helen Keller, Quote Page 11, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  4. 1961 June 11, Independent Star-News, Section: Parade Magazine (Sunday newspaper supplement), Walter Scott’s Personality Parade, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Pasadena, California. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1980 Winter, Business Quarterly: Canada’s Management Journal, Volume 45, Number 4, Editor’s guest book by Doreen Sanders, Quote Page 3, Published quarterly by School of Business Administration, The University of Western Ontario. (ProQuest ABI Inform)
  6. 1984 September 2, Dallas Morning News, Section: J Travel, Roughing it: Outdoor packages challenge vacationers by Dave Houser (Special to The News), Quote Page J1, Column 3, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)