Emily Dickinson is a figure of intense contradictions: the hermit, the spinster, the frail woman in white who nonetheless wrote poems of almost painfully turbulent passion. For years, biographers have speculated about the male mentor who inspired Dickinson's work, naming intellectual figures like Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Samuel Bowles as possible candidates. As it turns out, however, they might have looked closer to home. For years, both before and after a painful break in their relationship, Dickinson wrote ardent letters to her friend (and eventual sister-in-law) Susan Huntington Dickinson. In fact, she wrote more letters to Susan than to anyone else, despite the fact that at one point Susan lived only a stone's throw away. Like Dickinson's poetry, these letters are a curious business: half epistles, half poems, idiosyncratically capitalized, punctuated, and spaced. They are not merely warm, in the 19th-century way; they are fierce, even erotic, in the kind of attachment they express. Yet editors Ellen Hart and Martha Smith aren't in the business of outing anyone; they prefer to simply present the correspondence in all its passionate oddity. Susan Dickinson was clearly a friend as well as one of the most valued readers of her sister-in-law's poetry--but was she its inspiration, as well? Hart and Smith let the reader decide.
From Library Journal
This intriguing new collection of letters and poems, compiled by two noted Dickinson scholars, reveals a little-known side of one of America's best-loved poets. Documenting a 36-year correspondence between Emily Dickinson and her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, the book does much to negate the popular image of Emily as a mysterious, lonely recluse. In writing filled with warmth, humor, playfulness, and joy, Emily shows her profound attachment to Susan as a friend and as an object of literary inspiration. The romantic and often erotically charged writings, censored or misinterpreted in earlier collections, will surprise many readers. Building upon standard works such as Thomas Johnson's Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958), Hart and Smith revise earlier scholarship and provide fresh commentary. Published by a highly selective feminist press that typically produces only two titles per year, this book is an important acquisition for academic and larger public libraries.?Ellen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT
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