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Critics embraced this new angle on the life of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s best-loved poets but also one of the most difficult to understand. While the subject of the book may seem rather narrow, reviewers claimed that Wineapple’s excellent narrative and literary sensibilities keep White Heat from becoming overly obscure. Only the Boston Globe faulted Wineapple for reading too vaguely between the lines, literally, of Dickson and Wineapple’s correspondence and for rehashing older material. Overall, however, the result is a book that balances literary criticism, biography, and history, while never straying too far from the few available facts about Dickinson and her life. Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
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In addition to 'Ecstatic Nation' (a 'New York Times' "Notable Book") Brenda Wineapple is the author of 'White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson,' a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, a 'New York Times' "Notable Book," and named best nonfiction of 2008 in 'The Washington Post,' 'The Christian Science Monitor,' 'The Economist,' among many other publications. Her earlier books include 'Hawthorne : A Life,' winner of the Ambassador Book Award for the Best Biography of 2003; 'Sister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein'; 'Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner.' In 2014 she received a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; other honors include a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim, an American Council of Learned Societies and two National Endowment Humanities Fellowships. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012 and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians and the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Brenda Wineapple's expertise as a biographer is evident on every page. She knows how to handle her massive research without intruding on the main narrative. She knows how to balance conflicting views of her two protagonists, evoking sympathy and admiration for both. She is able to place them deftly in the context of their moment in American history. She reads Dickinson's poems with sensitivity and skill. White Heat deserves the great reception it has received so far, and even surpassed expectations I had after reading reviews in the NY Times and The New Yorker.
Brenda Wineapple writes an intimate portrait of Higginson and Dickinson with sensitivity and elegance. I was afraid it would be rather dry, but just the opposite is true. The author is heady and scholarly, but the writing takes off like an engrossing story, lifts you with it. There is nothing stodgy or stuffy about this book. The narrative flows with grace, and her prose style engages you with its intelligent delivery. It is thoroughly researched--while reading it, I was brought back in time and place. I saw through their eyes. I was inside of Dickinson and beside Higginson. At Emily's home in Amherst, I easily felt what she felt when she looked out her window.
At first glance, even from the old photos, they seem like vastly different people. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a man of various talents. He was a well-traveled writer, yes; but he was also involved in public service and the reform movement, and he was intent on seeking out a certain amount of fame and celebrity for himself. Emily Dickinson was the quintessential homebody who saw the world mostly from her bucolic Main Street window. She wrote poetry that she shared only with close friends or tucked away in the bottom drawer of her dresser. Higginson grew up in the realm of liberal Unitarianism and Harvard College. Dickinson's conservative grandfather was a devout Congregationalist who founded Amherst College. Their families represented the opposite edges of life in New England in the 1800s. Yet it was WORDS that brought these unlikely correspondents together.
With "White Heat," Brenda Wineapple follows the current trend of studying history through dual biography, or vice versa. Odds are good that much of the reading public will recognize only one of the two names listed in the title, for Emily's storied reputation precedes her. Even those who cannot recite her lines by heart "know" that she was a recluse who wasn't published much during her lifetime. But what parts of her myth are true, and which are not? Wineapple does her best to unravel the life of the real Emily Dickinson -- or, at least, as close to reality as we can guess.
Fans of the Transcendentalists know well of Wentworth Higginson, the former minister who was a disciple of Thoreau and one of John Brown's Secret Six. They will have heard something about him becoming Dickinson's literary agent of sorts, publishing her work posthumously. But how did he come to be so involved with her?Read more ›
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Like the book's title, this one is from one of Emily Dickinson's poems. "White Heat" is from Dickinson's "Dare you see a Soul at the "White Heat"? As so often happens, one tries to say something about Emily only to discover that, whatever it was, Emily herself already said it better a century and a half ago. We are talking here, after all, about America's greatest poet, an accolade often speciously accorded to Walt Whitman, for an ever-so-American populist reason: ever since "Leaves of Grass" finally made it into public consciousness, late in Whitman's own life, any number of poetaster Modernists have been seeking, with varying degrees of success, to emulate him. Nobody, on the other hand, ever tries to emulate Emily. Even more than Shakespeare, she seems a totally singular poetic event; it's impossible.
No doubt that is something like what Thomas Wentworth Higginson dimly perceived, himself a wannabe poet, from the first day he set eyes on some highly eccentric (by the standards of the time) poetry included in a letter from the unknown spinster daughter of a very good Amherst Massachusetts family, writing to ask whether literary lion Higginson was "too deeply occupied" to spare her a few words of poetic mentorship. Higginson wrote back with some prosaic advice on how Emily might strive to make her work more publishable, together with an admonition not to attempt publication until she succeeded, thus launching a decades-long correspondence that ran right up to Emily's death in 1886.
In all those years, Emily never actually took any of Higginson's advice, Higginson never published any of her poetry, and the two only met in person twice, on occasions that could not have been very gratifying to either of them.Read more ›
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Emily Dickinson wrote over 1700 poems of lyrical complexity about nature, immortality, death and her love of nature. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a man of Renaissance complexity, brilliance and service to his country. These two nineteenth century figures: a reclusive poetic genius and a man of action are the subjects of Dr. Brenda Wineapple's new duo biography. Wineapple is famous for her previous stellar biography of New England's genius Nathaniel Hawthorne. She knows New England life during the nineteenth century with a literary scholar's thoroughness. Emily Dickinson "the Belle of Amherst" Massachusetts wrote Thomas Wentworth Higginson a letter asking if he thought her poetry was worthy of being published. He wrote her that her work was excellent. Thus from the early 1860's until her death the two were ardent pen pals Higginson was a man of letters, an abolitionist who worked with John Brown on the latter's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859, a U.S. Congressman and an advocate for Women's Rights. Higginson was also the first commander of the African-American regiment the First South Carolina which fought at Fort Wagner in the summer of 1863. Dickinson corresponded with Higginson until she died in 1886. They met only a few times and their relationship was platonic. Dickinson was red headed and freethinking regarding spirituality. Higginson was deeply involved in the transcendalist circle of Concord Mass. He knew such literary giants as Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russell Lowe and Henry David Thoreau. Dickinson would not leave her well to do family's property while Higginson traveled to Europe and saw combat in the Civil War in which he was injured. Higginson wed twice but was probably in love with Dickinson as was she with him.Read more ›