by Jay Leyda ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 19, 1960
This is an extraordinary, interesting and original approach to the life of Emily Dickinson, though the author of The Melville Log, in presenting his volumes, specifically states that it should supplement and not replace a biography- that it be used in conjunction with Johnson's definitive Variorium Edition of her work- and that the material here has been selected to provide a fuller portrait of his subject. Scraps of letters, extracts from diaries, from journals, newspaper clippings, all are used to amplify and clarify. The sentimental legend that has grown up around Emily Dickinson isolates her, while these pages, the evidence of immense research and application, reveal her as a more warmly human person who wrote more in her time as she knew it than has been suspected. The first volume goes from the time of her parents' engagement to her much loved brother Austin's marriage to her close friend Susan Gilbert of the many letters. Throughout the influence in her growing years of the First Church of Christ in Amherst (although she often declared she was not a Christian), of the college, of her own schooling, is evident. The second volume begins when she is 30 and continues to her death. All coalesces and nothing is left to surmise. Here is a gem stone in its setting. We learn about the puritan, inconsistent but able citizen, Edward Dickinson, her father, who permitted his daughters only the Bible as reading matter. Emily was in her forties before she read a word of Shakespeare. This montage method presents many interesting items about the Reverends Dudley and Wadsworth, both free thinking ministers of the period who influenced Emily tremendously, one whom certain interpreters have claimed she loved. It also throws further light on the Thomas Wentworth Higginson relationship. That Emily, an Elizabeth Barrett who never found her Browning, was an eccentric and a sort of religious fanatic becomes evident. But her story is so full of her genius, her tenderness and pathos, a product of New England Victorian America, that it is again moving. It seems hardly possible that anything more could be added to the Dickinson saga, but Mr. Leyda has done just that in giving her this backdrop. A real addition to American literary history.
Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1960
Page Count: -
Publisher: Yale University Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1960
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