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A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade Paperback – Bargain Price, March 31, 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
Benfey provides you with a paragraph or so of Twain, a few stanzas of Dickinson, a painting of Heade and then composes fascinating readings, sensitive of them by combining close analysis and historical detail. His pleasure and enjoyment of these authors and artists is palpable and contagious.
I really appreciate the way this book resists the common urge to treat Dickinson's biography as freakish (the white dresses, the recklessness, etc.). Benfey calls her a "stay-at-home visionary" and points out that "by April 1882, Dickinson could have published a volume of her poems had she wished to do so."
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the way it makes moments of the nineteenth century seem so close to our own experience. Benfey ends a description of the "hotel-world" that Henry Flagler creates: "Guests arrived at the resort in luxury railroad cars designed by Flagler, bearing the same yellow trim--`Flagler Yellow'--as the arches and windows of the hotel. The transition between railroad and hotel was seamless..." Doesn't that just sound like the branded, constructed trip one would get from, say Disney?
There are no surprises among the cast of characters Benfey traces through their swirling circles, except the 20th century artist Joseph Cornell who serves as a coda absorbing and releasing the energy of the muses before him. Artist Martin Johnson Heade seems to touch all of the 19th century line-up, including Thomas Higginson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Emily Dickinson, Austin Dickinson, Mabel Loomis Todd and Mark Twain. Early in their lives, Lord Byron, slavery and the Civil War inspire meditations on freedom, and Darwin alternately stirs up curiosity about natural phenomenon and challenges to religious belief in the creation story. Hummingbirds turn up everywhere, as images of freedom, images of restless lives, images caught in poetry and on canvas, and as pets and taxidermy specimens. Benfey's subjects are intellects on fire. It is only time before their passions boil over to more physical alliances that seem to coalesce around the summer of 1882, also the year of the transit of the planet Venus.Read more ›
Benfey is a master at connecting all of these people through their relatives, their marriages, their literary and artistic interests, their jobs, their social engagements---and their infatuation with hummingbirds. The latter set of intersections is occasionally pushed a bit far, but it's a nice motif, for the most part. Some of Benfey's chatty, impressionistic chapters are a delight; it's like reading a highbrow 19th century version of People Magazine, where the Beecher/Tilton adultery scandal would be right at home. As in his book about Japan, Benfey writes well about artists, too, and his sketch of the artist Martin Johnson Heade is affectionate and compelling.
The only person whom Benfey does not write well about is Emily Dickinson. He conveys her milieu very well, but the poems themselves really seem to elude him. He has an unfortunate tendency to insert them as props to make his point, without reading them closely.Read more ›
I don't think this book would capture/retain the interest of the general reader.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fun book. I started off interested in the humming birds and the painter Martin Johnson Heade's, then became interested in the interactions of so many important and eccentric... Read morePublished 14 months ago by mark
I had read this book and given away my copy. I wanted it for a friend, and I really haven't heard how she likes it, but thanks for your prompt and inexpensive solution to my... Read morePublished on January 18, 2014 by jo hoak
Another excursion into the Gilded Age by Christopher Benfey, the Mellon Professor of English Literature at Holyoke College, one of the most beautiful and rich periods of American... Read morePublished on August 6, 2013 by Magalini Sabina
You might not be familiar with Christopher Benfey unless you love books, critiques and reviews. Benfey is an Emily Dickinson scholar and Mount Holyoke College professor of English. Read morePublished on November 30, 2012 by GIBO
I was quite taken by the romantic title of the book, with it's cast of famous, beloved writers and the artist, Martin Johnson Heade. Read morePublished on March 11, 2012 by esarfjames
"A Summer of Hummingbirds" is an historical, non-fiction book that is both fascinating and informative. Read morePublished on October 16, 2009 by Shirley