The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson (Hardcover)
W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393068566, 348pp.
Publication Date: February 1, 2010
The story begins in the snow. It's 1848, and Emily is a student at Mount Holyoke, with its mournful headmistress and strict, strict rules. She sees the seminary's blond handyman rescue a baby deer from a mountain of snow, in a lyrical act of liberation that will remain with her for the rest of her life. The novel revivifies such historical figures as Emily's brother, Austin, with his crown of red hair; her sister-in-law, Sue; a rival and very best friend, Emily's little sister, Lavinia, with her vicious army of cats; and especially her father, Edward Dickinson, a controlling congressman. Charyn effortlessly blends these very factual characters with a few fictional ones, creating a dramatis personae of dynamic breadth Inspired by her letters and poetry, Charyn has captured the occasionally comic, always fevered, ultimately tragic story of Dickinson's journey from Holyoke seminarian to dying recluse, compulsively scribbling lines of genius in her Amherst bedroom. Rarely before has the nineteenth-century world of New England--its religious stranglehold, its barbaric insane asylums, its circus carnivals--been captured in such spectacular depth. Through its lyrical inflections and poetic rhythms, its invention of a distinct, twenty-first-century "Charynesque" language that pays remarkable homage to America's sovereign literary past, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson provides a resonance of such power as to make this an indelible work of literature in its own right.