Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

ISBN #: 9780393339178 (sc)
ISBN #: 9780393068566 (hc)
Page Count: 352 (sc); 348 (hc)
Copyright: 2/14/11 (sc); 2/22/10 (hc)

(Taken from the blog tour website)

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.

My Review:

Cover: Despite the simplistic cover, I still enjoy looking at it.  Showing the silhouette of a lady beneath her dress and petticoats makes one wonder if the outer formality of a lady is somehow hiding an inner rebellious  and free spirit.  It initiates thoughts of what the story within could be like.

Plot: This novel fictionally covers the life of Ms. Emily Dickinson, from her time at Holyoke until her death.  She is depicted as somewhat of a free spirit who tends to go where she wants despite the rules of society.  She falls in love with ease and often with the most questionable gentlemen.  Emily, as depicted in this novel, even sometimes wishes she were a man so she could woo a couple ladies that she is undeniably drawn and attracted to.

Characters: The main character is, of course, Emily Dickinson.  She is a wonderfully unique and eccentric person.  I would have loved to have lived when she did and gotten to know her.

Austin, Emily's brother, is very protective of Emily.  They often cover for and conspire with each other.  Austin ends up in a loveless and unhappy marriage which drives him to have "relationships" outside of his marriage.

Lavinia, Austin and Emily's sister, is content to be a cat lady.  She has numerous cats and is happy to have them as companions while living as a spinster in her family's home.  She is Emily's confidant and often helps her secretly send letters to the men Emily has fallen "in love" with.

Squire Dickinson, the patriarch of the family, keeps up a hard exterior.  He rarely shows any joy or happiness, probably believing that to do so would diminish the aura of leadership over his family.

Overall: This is an excellent and entertaining fictional look into what could have been the life of Emily Dickinson.  The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson would be a wonderful addition to any classic lover's bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. Mandy - thank you very much for the review. I really liked how you talked about all of the members of Emily's family. And I agree with your thoughts about the cover!

    For all those who'd like to follow along on the book's blog tour, please hop on over to

    Thanks Mandy for hosting a stop on the tour.


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