The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn – Book Review

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn
Published by W. W. Norton & Company

Daughter of the Earl of Amherst, Emily Dickinson does not always have an easy time at Mt. Holyoke. She is secretly in love with Tom, the groundskeeper to whom no teacher or pupil is allowed to speak, but the differences between her and the other girls are staggering: she never receives Valentines, and she has no good friends to speak of, she primarily only associates with the daughter of a stable hand. Upon her return home, she is the darling of her father, a father who wanted nothing more than to keep her by his side.

He is Bluebeard with red side-whiskers, serving up daughters instead of wives. I will never leave this castle. He will decline whatever suitor I bring to West Street. Father might let Lavinia escape, but not me. It’s not my Indian bread per se. He could find another baker. But Father seems to count on the little storms I crate. Perhaps he imagines my face in his mirror – the hobgolin with red hair whom he cannot live without. Such an imp can shatter his isolation. I am his Dolly, sentenced to serve him puddings for the rest of his natural life and most of mine.

Jerome Charyn’s writing is absolutely lovely. Everything was so evocative,  so Dickinson-esque. The entire novel had a wonderful, wild, poetic feel. Charyn’s Emily, too, was a fascinating creature. She was alone partly because of her father’s prejudices, partly because of her own. And yet even when she had become a complete recluse, she still hungered for romance, for the touch of a man. She was no love-struck girl or withering flower, though. Emily could be bossy, manipulative, she had a full range of human emotions and desires.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson may have actually inspired me to read some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Since I’ve never before had that desire, I think we can safely say that this book is a big hit.

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