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The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel…

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel

by Jerome Charyn

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Oh dear. My husband won this book and was asked to review it. He passed it on to me. It was torture to read. I just could not get interested in the characters at all. The beginning showed a bit of promise, but Emily (as imagined by Charyn) was emotionally stunted and never matured. She was constantly pining for men she barely knew. I was just bored. I do not understand the great reviews this is getting. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 13, 2016 |
If you want to get to know Emily Dickinson then this is the novel for you. However mainly due to the title I thought that this book would be more scandalous with some hidden truths that Emily Dickinson would not want the world to know. However this wasn’t the case we are given the picture that Emily Dickinson is a ‘timid old maid’ and this wasn’t what I was expecting.

This novel is told from the point of view of Emily Dickinson and the language and the text is true to what Emily Dickinson would of used. The inclusion of her poetry was done well and was integrated into the novel.

Overall this was an enjoyable read and it’s only downfall was that I thought there would be more scandal within the novel.

This review was first published on http://everybookhasasoul.wordpress.com ( )
  everybookhasasoul | Feb 28, 2012 |
First of all, I have to admit some things up front. I have never been the world's biggest poetry fan, and I know next to nothing about Emily Dickinson's poetry. I know absolutely nothing about her life. So, I definitely did not open this book with the POV that I would in any way critique or chime in on whether or not the details of the story (or even the overall picture) are historically accurate.

The one thing I do know about her life is that as she aged, she grew increasingly eccentric without proper outlets to express herself. The prose of the book deteriorated along with Emily and I thought that was awesome. I'm not in any way saying the writing was ever bad (because it was gorgeous), but that the writing evolved along with the story.

Like I said, the writing was gorgeous. I think it was my favorite part of the book. One of my favorite things were the descriptions. I bookmarked a few examples:

Tom does not belong to the population of readers.
...Satan sings. Foul, with sulfur as his perfume, Satan is still a Poet.
I'm in too much of a tempest to taste a morsel. I haven't relinquished all the poison in my well. The venom courses through my veins.

I just love the lyrical voice of the language, fitting of a poet. Instead of simply stating "Tom couldn't read" or "I was still mad," the language paints a picture.

There were several points that I thought the story was dragging, but again, if I'd been more of an Emily fan I don't think I'd have ever been bored. Overall, I enjoyed seeing her from an angle I'd never have experienced from a study at school. Another thing I enjoyed was the historical context that I was literate enough to appreciate...the piece that sticks out the most being a debate on whether Currer Bell was a woman or a man. I loved seeing Jane Eyre discussed, especially since it was new at the time - I've never seen it discussed as anything but a classic.

Anyway, overall I recommend reading this as a solid historical novel with beautifully written language. Even though it was slow at times, it was never enough to make me want to set it aside. If you're at all a fan of Emily Dickinson and her poetry, I definitely think you'll enjoy seeing her from a new perspective. ( )
  allureofbooks | Jun 29, 2011 |
Up until I read this novel, I had no idea who Emily Dickinson was. I knew her name, I knew she was a writer but that was about it. I didn't know what to expect when I began The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. What I learned was that Ms. Dickinson was a complicatedly simple woman with a deep desire to love and experience life.

I enjoyed the time I spend with her. Jerome Charyn had incredible skill to give her a voice. His descriptions were so vivid. I loved the moxie Emily had, the humor in which she approached life. I love that she had a touch of the dramatics. I loved how real he made her. She was no longer this unknown woman who happened to be a poet in the 19th century. She was a woman who wanted so much from life, to explore to travel to see what the world had to offer.

I especially loved the way Mr. Charyn describes Emily's relationship with her father. She loved her father deeply and above all wanted his approval. I think she wanted him to accept her for who she was, flawed, insecure and perfect. In the end, I think she gets just that. If only that was enough.

I think this novel is a great read for those who love Emily Dickinson and her poetry. It's also a great way to discover her for the first time. This will definitely be a novel I will read again. The next time, I will have a book of Emily Dickinson's poems on hand.

And as for Mr. Charyn, I am looking forward to reading his other work. He has this beautiful ability to encompass the voice of whomever he becomes. ( )
  ForSix | May 20, 2011 |
Article first published as Book Review:The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn on Blogcritics.

Shrouded in mystery, Emily Dickinson and her life have continued to be of interest to those enthralled with her writing. One of the great poets of our time, her life and times are of great interest. A private person, her life continues to hold a fascination. Who was she, the woman behind the writing?

In The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, Jerome Charyn has written a novel that gives us a glimpse into the possibilities of her life. Using information as well as conjecture, we learn of a woman and her life, its tragedies and triumphs. She is born in a time that woman writers are just beginning to make a mark. Her work becomes known through a series of circumstance.

In a fascinating story told in bold and audacious fashion, Mr. Charyn has delved deep into the psyche of the woman behind the poet. He describes her escapades of the times as well as the problems she is known to have faced. Her relationship with her family and her own wild stunts are brought out in basic relief, a life described in a fashion to make her more human. We sometimes forget the actual humanity of those that rise above, whether is it their celebrity status or their wealth, and Charyn gives us that person behind the mask.

This is often a humorous and yet heartbreaking look at a woman who cut herself off from humanity as she aged. It is a look at her passions’ and her genius, often recognized more by those around her, more so then herself. Overcoming the disapproval of others including her beloved father to make a mark in writing, she is beleaguered by the objection of some of her peers. Her background and life come to stark reality. This is a realistic look at the woman behind the prose.

I would recommend this book as an in depth look at an extremely admirable woman. It is wonderfully written, full of characters that leap off the pages. Jerome Charyn has written about a woman who just happens to be famous, and yet this novel is intriguing without that distraction. Her poetry is secondary to the theme of this book. This is a look as the fragilities’ and vulnerabilities of any one person with the staunchness to overcome and stay true to their nature. This would be a wonderful addition for a book club or discussion group. ( )
  wrighton-time | Feb 28, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Charyn has had a long and respected career as a novelist, and he notes in his introduction that he was inspired by Dickinson early in his writing life. “She was a country girl, and I was a boy from the Bronx,” he says. “I was hooked and hypnotized from the start.” Yet that odd-couple ardor has resulted in a novel that, like its arch but generic title, misses Dickinson’s fireworks.
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Tom the handyman is wading in the snow outside my window in boots a buglar might wear.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393068560, Hardcover)

“There's nothing quite like a Charyn novel. . . . His sentences make a mournful and sensational clatter, like a bundle of butcher knives dropped on a cathedral floor.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

Jerome Charyn has been writing some of the most bold and adventurous American fiction for over forty years. His ten-book cycle of novels about madcap New York mayor and police commissioner Isaac Sidel inspired a new generation of younger writers in America and France, where he is a national literary icon. Now, adding to his already distinguished career, Charyn gives us The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, an audacious novel about the inner imaginative world of America’s greatest poet. Channeling the devilish rhythms and ghosts of a seemingly buried literary past, Charyn has removed the mysterious veils that have long enshrouded Dickinson, revealing her passions, inner turmoil, and powerful sexuality.

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. 9 illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

What if the old maid of Amherst wasn't an old maid at all? The poet dons a hundred veils, alternately playing wounded lover, penitent, and female devil in this extraordinary adventure that will disturb and delight.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393068560, 0393339173

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