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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
In the 1830s, Ralph Waldo Emerson was known throughout New England as a captivating lecturer and writer, as well as an eligible widower. Lydia Jackson heard him speak in her hometown of Plymouth, and she felt honored and almost unworthy when the great man afterward engaged her in personal conversation. Any number of women would gladly have exchanged places with her. But it was *she* whom Emerson sought out and *she* to whom he proposed marriage. (And *she* of whom he also demanded a name change and a move to Concord, but that's beside the point...)

Theirs was to be an intellectual match of equals and a real partnership, which was an unusual and ambitious undertaking for the time. But after the arrival of their first child, Waldo and Lidian fell into the traditional roles that marriages generally adhere to. For Lidian, the experience resulted in feelings of abandonment and unappreciation. She was often the last to know Waldo's travel plans for lecture tours. She became jealous of every female guest who spent time in parlor discussions with her husband -- with or without good reason -- especially Margaret Fuller. This was *not* the fulfilling life she had imagined.

And so, wanting more, she turned to a close family friend for conversation, caring, and concern - Henry David Thoreau. History has shown that the two were friends. In this novel, they become a bit more intimate, with Lidian being the instigator. In the 21st century, we're not surprised by this kind of turn of events, for we read similar headlines about celebrity marriages and third-party affairs on the front covers of grocery store rags. Those of us who are Thoreau fans would like to think that he would have been above that kind of behavior. And Lidian too, for that matter. They were *Transcendentalists*, for heavens sakes!

I was prepared to hate this book because I knew I disagreed with the Lidian-Henry relationship it describes. But I can't hate the book. It is a work of fiction, after all. I think it's otherwise a fair and valid portrayal of Lidian's life as Mr. Emerson's wife. Too frequently we hear about Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his second wife fades into the background, if she's mentioned at all. Reading this novel will provide a little more perspective into the daily life of the most influential man in 19th-century Concord. The moral of the story is: be careful what you wish for.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2005
MR. EMERSON'S WIFE is beautifully written. The people live. The psychologically probing portrait of the main character and narrator, Lidian Jackson Emerson, is especially rich. We know her through her own words, yet know her far better than she can know herself. We watch her change and grow. We feel for Lidian's plight and struggles, yet we never view her as merely the helpless victim of her circumstances- her time, role and place.

Ms. Brown also brings Lidian's world to life. The novel is scrupulously researched; but much more important, Amy Belding Brown has a feeling for the past. As but a minor example, most of us now view Emerson's Concord as a cultural center-the Athens of "the American Renaissance." Yet to the newly married Lidian-arriving from bustling, coastal Plymouth where she was raised-Concord is a drab, almost hick inland village.

Like another reviewer, Corinne H. Smith, I greatly admired this tale while rejecting one of its main premises. But isn't that often one of the deepest pleasures of a fine historical novel? If you want Aaron Burr "as he really was," you grab a biography. But if you prefer a portrait that stirs your imagination and challenges your assumptions, you reach for Gore Vidal's BURR. Similarly, MR. EMERSON'S WIFE offers a challenging as well as gripping portrait of the Emersons and their milieu.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2005
Though I must first admit to my strong dislike of historical fiction as a genre, I admit wholeheartedly that I really enjoyed this book. I love literary history, and usually find historical fiction to be a grave disappointment--not so with this book! I was up all night reading; more than being about these characters based on real people of significance (Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Fuller, and Mrs. Emerson, of course), it is about a woman who finds herself married and in danger of being subjugated to her powerful husband and the role of wife itself. I know it's fiction, but it really has changed the way I view Mr. Emerson. If fiction has a purpose to both entertain and elucidate, this book is certainly successful, for it really does inspire its readers to want to know more about these people--not just as figures or "characters" of history, but of their real lives. Though the ending was a bit pat, there were several gripping scenes, and overall the book is written with energy and insight. Extremely enjoyable!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2005
During my reading of Mr. Emerson's Wife, I resolved to read more about the real lives of the characters involved:Lidian Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Historical fiction can sometimes be a little dry or heavy because it is stuffed too full of facts. Not the case here! I found Lidian Emerson to be a very sympathetic character. She marries a famous philosopher who promises her an equal and mutually respectful relationship, but especially after she becomes a mother, he turns his back on her and treats her like a servant. Lidian's relationship with Henry David Thoreau is what I am most curious about. The author stirs up a romance, a very believable romance, about which I very much enjoyed reading, but I'd like to know the facts. Probably she took some liberty, but such is the playground of fiction. I did not want this book to end, and have reserved some related reading for myself. An excellent first novel!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2006
I quickly fell in love with this book. The writing is excellent and flows off the page with ease and grace.

Lydia was very independent and had a great mind. She was dedicated to being a spinster until she meets Mr. Emerson. Everyone encouraged her the match was right so she decided to marry. Mr. Emerson told her their marriage would be like none other, but as time went on her marriage was not as she expected. She tried to make the best of her situation as did most women of the time. Lydia constantly struggled throughout the book with her own desires and her role as wife and mother. I also loved the constant death in the book. It happened so often yet people rarely touched on it when writing historical fiction, and I think Ms. Brown did a wonderful job of exploring this topic. I truly felt sorry for Lydia. She was a great woman who put up with a lot of turmoil for her family. Its sad to see how she because like so many other married women. I cannot help but believed in the end she was not true to herself and lost her path. But I wonder if most women who married then also became victims and lost their true selves.

I hope Ms. Brown writes a book about Mrs. Alcott. I believe she would do an excellent job. Please Ms. Brown write more historical fiction!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2005
I stayed up until almost 2:00 A.M. reading this book! What a gem! Beautifully written, exquisitely etched characters -- it's like being time-machined into an enchanting yesteryear and rubbing shoulders with the Emersons, Thoreaus and Alcotts!

Guess it would be classified as "historical fiction" but the book seems to effortlessly cross that thin, often shadowy dividing line between fiction and biography! What a perceptive and beautifully told account of Lidian (Lydia) Jackson Emerson -- a truly magnificent woman but one who, today, so few know. Obviously the author did meticulous research and it works --- step by step, Lidian is drawn out of the historical closet into the light.

I was particularly struck by what Ms. Brown wrote in the "Author's Note" -- that the book "explores the 'cracks' in the historical record ... tells what 'might have been'....."

She certainly succeeds -- the book is a real joy to read! And as an added bonus, glistens with thought-provoking, historical quotes. Read it -- you'll love it! It's definitely five star in my book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2007
Caught somewhere between the passions of the revolution and the violent upheaval of the Civil War, the first half of the 19th century has always seemed a dark and shadowy place to me. Amy Belding Brown is the perfect travel guide and escort to lead the reader through these years of natural philosophers and transcendentalists. Her characters are drawn brilliantly, and considering that some are of great historical stature she has worked bravely too. As a reader, I did not mind that Brown used poetic license because her insights, attention to details, and dialogues are amazing. It's hard to believe that Brown did not transport herself back two hundred years to live among these Concordians. That's how "real" she makes them. Lidian Emerson is an unforgettable heroine. This book is also a page-turner and highly thought provoking--not to mention that I wept through the entire last chapter! All in all, a very entertaining read!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2006
This is a well written and intriguing book that brings to life the intellligentsia of 19th century New England. As a 21st century American woman, the contrast in the lives that even well educated women led back then as compared to today is chilling. The author also shows how women everywhere feel unloved by the person closest to them and how lack of communication and understanding can quickly lead to feelings of isolation, devastation and regret.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 9, 2009
This was my book club's most recent selection. We read March by Geraldine Brooks last year and I thought this would be an interesting and related choice.

I don't think the cover is indicative of the story the book holds. And I don't agree with the quote from Susan Cheever on the cover, "A soaring imaginative leap, this book combines detailed history with a page-turning illicit love story." Don't be fooled, this is not a romance novel and it doesn't 'burn with passion'.

I haven't read Emerson's lectures and if I've read Thoreau's work it was so long ago that I really don't remember. So, someone who has a strong opinion about those men and what they know of their lives may have very different feeling about this book than I do.

I enjoyed this book, I thought it was very well done, the relationships and emotions are realistic, the writing was enjoyable and the story was moving.

I expected to hear more about abolitionist and the civil war and while they are threads woven throughout, they are not the meat of the story. This is a story about love, marriage, motherhood and the transformation of self that goes along with those institutions. Brown portrays marriage, motherhood and loss honestly.

From the text of the book when Lidian is upset and home sick for Plymouth. 'I found myself reflecting how closely people mirrored their climate. Concord was mud and dust and uncouth manners - all sharp edges and unhemmed fringes. It was the butcher and the judge at the same soiree.'

She peppers quotes from Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Lydia Maria Child throughout. One that I particularly like is from Lydia Maria Child, 'True wisdom lies in finding out all the advantages of a situation in which we are placed instead of imagining the enjoyments of one in which we are not placed.'

I liked this book, I thought it was well done and I will be inclined to read more from Amy Belding Brown.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2006
I slipped easily into this book and the world of 19th century Plymouth & Concord Mass. I beg the author to write a novel on Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne. How about it, Ms. Brown?
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