In the end, in an irony she would have appreciated, another biographer has mapped Dickinson’s outer world without leaving...




A biography of the elusive Belle of Amherst (1830–86) that celebrates her imaginative witchery and triumph over adversity without penetrating her enigma.

Because her sister fulfilled Emily Dickinson’s request to burn her correspondence after her death, biographers experience considerable difficulty in sounding the deep currents of her life. To establish how she became so reclusive, Habegger (The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr., 1994) is at great pains to delve into her family—sometimes excessively so (the poet’s birth does not occur until page 72). Her father, Edward Dickinson, a lawyer and one-term Whig congressman, was as zealous in guarding his children against all physical and financial danger as he was in claiming that women had no intellectual powers worth exercising. Her brother Austin, who lived with his wife next door to Edward and Emily, was too narrowly egotistical to appreciate Emily’s writing and in later years embarked on an affair that affected posthumous publication of her work. Deaths involving close relatives and friends when she was young led Dickinson into existential doubt about God’s justice, making her the lone family holdout from the local Congregational Church. Given these circumstances, Habegger plausibly suggests, Emily “perfected the art of living separately in close proximity,” discovering boundless independence and creative freedom even as her outer world contracted. Using extensive research on her associations, he adroitly analyzes Dickinson’s intense attachments: friendships with fellow schoolgirls, relationships with male intellectuals such as Atlantic Monthly editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and particularly her late-blooming romance with Otis Phillips Lord, an elderly jurist and friend of her father. Yet, despite his chronological organization, Habegger never helps the reader get a handle on the stages of Dickinson’s development as poet and adult, and he sometimes dismisses claims of earlier Dickinson scholars without offering an equally adequate explanation for events.

In the end, in an irony she would have appreciated, another biographer has mapped Dickinson’s outer world without leaving adequate markers for her interior landscape.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-44986-8

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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