- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (December 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307456307
- ISBN-13: 978-0307456304
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #955,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson Paperback – December 1, 2009
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Winner of the Arts Club of Washington National Award for Arts Writing
"A tour de force that should delight specialists and casual readers alike. . . . Fascinating." —Washington Post
"Written with a dry heat that does justice to its impassioned protagonists. . . . Wineapple [has] a feisty prose style and a relish for unsettling received ideas." —The New Yorker
"Wineapple achieves what the best literary biography should: a portrait which provides close-up moments of tangible intimacy while allowing the subject to remain ultimately mysterious." —The Economist
"One of the most astonishing books about poetry I have ever read. It causes us to see Emily Dickinson, perhaps for the first time, as an actual human being of a particular time and place, rather than as a timeless, ghostly, and ethereal instrument of first-rank poetic genius. . . . Irresistibly entertaining." —Franz Wright
"A wonderfully evocative double portrait." —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
"One of the best books of 2008. . . . Wineapple's superb biography of the friendship between Emily Dickinson and her editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, complicates our understanding of the Belle of Amherst." —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
"A dual biography of astonishing depth and grace." —The Boston Globe
"A brilliant account of one of the oddest literary friendships in American history." —Foreign Affairs
"A prismatic double portrait. Ms. Wineapple specializes in imparting flesh-and-blood substance and narrative thrust to literary biographies." —The Wall Street Journal
"Intelligent, delightful. . . . A rich and satisfying journey." —Christian Science Monitor
"A model biography cum literary study set against an inexhaustibly interesting historical backdrop." —Miami Herald
"Careful research and a lively prose style. . . . A double delight." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"In her trenchant, memorable narrative of Dickinson's quarter-century entanglement with Higginson, Wineapple takes us into the "white heat" they generated together, a synergy that made their cold New England souls immeasurably warmer." —Times Literary Supplement (London)
"This double biography reveals a captivating Dickinson." —Time
"Brenda Wineapple, a superb literary critic, has a historian's soul. In White Heat, she beautifully describes the quiet drama and elusive tempos of one of the most improbable and fateful authorial friendships in all of American writing. Few contemporary interpreters, if any, could have understood the story in all its richness as Wineapple has—and then related it with such grace as well as authority." —Sean Wilentz
"Wineapple has done an admirable and eloquent job of unraveling this intriguing chapter in Emily Dickinson's story, but always with respect for the mystery of compatibility at its core. No book I know brings us deeper into the inner chambers of this poet's private life." —Billy Collins
"[This] is one of the strangest stories in American literary history—poignant, exasperating, moving—and Wineapple tells it with a rare brio and authority. White Heat is biography at its very best. It brings these two to life more exactly, more sympathetically, more vividly than ever before. A triumph!" —J. D. McClatchy
About the Author
Brenda Wineapple is the author of Genet: A Biography of Janet Flanner; Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein; and Hawthorne: A Life, winner of the Ambassador Award of the English-Speaking Union for Best Biography of 2003. Her essays and reviews appear in many publications, among them The New York Times Book Review and The Nation. She has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lives in New York City and teaches creative writing at Columbia University and The New School.
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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. During all that time, Emily maintained her coy pose as "nobody,"a recluse shut away from the world in her upstairs bedroom, living through her books and a fits-and-starts production of poetry that she rarely showed to anyone but family and dearest friends and never sought to publish. As to "who" Higginson was, Harvard educated Boston Brahmin Universalist minister, Abolitionist, Feminist, radical Activist, Civil War commander of the first Union black regiment, featured Atlantic Monthly writer and prominent literary critic, it would seem a question that Higginson himself spent most of his restlessly eventful career trying to answer, as very much a man of his hyperambitious times. It was a question that Emily, quintessentially agnostic backwoods nobody who also happened to be a delphic poetess for the ages with a genius standing somewhere entirely outside historical time, and who probably had Higginson's number from day one, could probably have answered for him with a bulls-eye accuracy, had she ever chosen to do so. For all that it was Higginson's own exertions that made him historically important, it was only his tenuous connection with Emily that, ironically, made him immortal.
As such, it may look to us today, in history's wrong-end-of-the-telescope retrospect, like a totally frivolous hookup between these two very different characters, a mere distraction in the strange career of a poetic genius about whom we are always wishing we knew more. It is on this point that Brenda Wineapple steps in with an insight almost as telling as Emily's own might have been, to show how wrong we are to take the correspondence as unimportant or a mere distraction in either of their careers. Rather, it would seem that Emily, at least, knew exactly what she was doing, and her genius profited by it, even if not in any way that Higginson might have intended. It was an intellectual flirtation or courtship, the kind Emily preferred, the coquettish quality of which totally mesmerized Higginson and played him like a fish for decades, no physical contact necessary. In fact, when they did finally meet in the flesh, on the occasion of a visit by Higginson to Emily's Amherst home, the encounter seemed to completely unnerve the both of them.
In the end, Higginson did finally man up and give his peculiar protege her due. Not only did he eulogize Emily at her funeral, but he ultimately helped edit, regularized, and played a key role in the publication of, a posthumous collection of her poetry that astonished all concerned by flying off the shelves as an immediate best seller. Today, of course, when contemporary taste tends to prefer Emily's poetry just as she wrote it, in its purest form, much of Higginson's editorial workmanship looks rather like a travesty upon great art, a lacy brassiere on the Venus de Milo, and I still wince every time I spot Emily's "Because I could not stop for Death--" orthographically tarted up, editorially tweaked and made-over as "The Chariot." What we may forget, of course, is the vote of thanks inevitably owed Higginson and others, inasmuch as, by the standards of the time, chances are that Emily's reinventions of the English language, without the aid of such ham-handed handiwork, might not have been publishable at all, meaning that it would all have disappeared into history's black hole and we wouldn't have it today.
As to Emily Dickinson, her oeuvre, and the many circumstantial sidelights cast upon it, the literary and critical corpus waxes enormous as her name and fame only grow over the decades since her death. Though not all of the books are good, some are indeed good and useful, and a very few offerings can truly be called great. Brenda Wineapple's specially insightful contribution to the corpus is uniquely admirable and must rank as an example of that latter class.
Hats off to Wineapple.