Lives Like Loaded Guns

Lives Like Loaded Guns

Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds

Book - 2010
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In 1882, Emily Dickinson's brother Austin began a passionate love affair with Mabel Todd, a young Amherst faculty wife, setting in motion a series of events that would forever change the lives of the Dickinson family. The feud that erupted as a result has continued for over a century. Lyndall Gordon, an award-winning biographer, tells the riveting story of the Dickinsons, and reveals Emily as a very different woman from the pale, lovelorn recluse that exists in the popular imagination. Thanks to unprecedented use of letters, diaries, and legal documents, Gordon digs deep into the life and work of Emily Dickinson, to reveal the secret behind the poet's insistent seclusion, and presents a woman beyond her time who found love, spiritual sustenance, and immortality all on her own terms. An enthralling story of creative genius, filled with illicit passion and betrayal, Lives Like Loaded Guns is sure to cause a stir among Dickinson's many devoted readers and scholars.
Publisher: New York : Viking, c2010.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780670021932
Characteristics: xvii, 491 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map, geneal. table ; 24 cm.


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Oct 24, 2014

I've always loved Dickenson's poetry, but had no idea of why she was a recluse except that she was eccentric. Gordon uses primary sources to dig into the poetry, criticism, the Dickenson family, the affair between Emily's brother Austin and Mabel Loomis Todd, and the feud this affair caused. Not only did this feud spit the Dickenson family, it strongly affected the literary reaction to the poetry. The family, who owned the copyrights, didn't have the sophistication enough to publish, in a period when women writers weren't accepted. Mabel Todd was a performer, used to being in the public eye, and she knew enough to get the first edition together. This book carries the feud to the next generation, as Todd's daughter and Austin's daughter fought each other for control of the poems, still trying to keep the affair out of the public eye. A complex book about a complex subject. The educated guess about Emily's epilepsy is well supported, though can never be proven. Fascinating book I couldn't give 5 stars to, just because it's so complex.

Feb 21, 2012

After reading this book, by the scholarly Lyndall Gordon, who in her other life is a senior research fellow at St. Hilda’s college in Oxford, England, I realized I was still reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry like the Jr High kid I was when I was first introduced to her works. Ms Gordon gives us a much more complicated portrait of her than the one I had imagined of a shy recluse hidden away in frustration at the limitations of 19th century women. Most interesting to me is Gordon’s advocacy of epilepsy as the condition that both defined and confined Emily. Its burning visions and unpredictability, she postulates, were at the core of Emily’s brilliance. Confined as she was by her condition and the constraints of a woman’s life, family was everything to Emily. Her life long friendship with her sister-in- law Susan, was a tremendous influence for her. So loyal was she that when her brother began an adulterous affair with Mabel Todd in Emily’s kitchen that was to last the rest of her life, Emily refused to ever meet her. The book tells us about Emily Dickinson, but also about ownership of her legacy by the two completing sides of her family, Mabel Loomis, who was the first to put them into typewritten form, and Susan Dickinson who truly knew the poet and understood her enigmatic poetry better than anyone. On many levels this was a fascinating book. And may I just say once again, that human nature really hasn’t changed at all in 150 years. Get this book and read all about it.

m2 Mar 28, 2011

Wow! What a book. Uncovers the reason for 2 warring camps of Dickinson collections, analysis and biography and resolves many of the questions about the poet.
A terrific read, like a detective book.
If you've ever had any interest in Emily Dickinson, this is essential reading.
I loved every minute.

Jan 19, 2011

There is probably a good story in here somewhere-unfortunately, I can't get past the first 50 pages. The writing style is so flowery and hard to follow I am giving up
Updated comment: WOW-I was just looking at the other comments about this book-unreal-are we talking about the same book? I am really glad others have enjoyed this-I thought the author must have been torn between writing a biography or a literally critique and, unable to decide, threw all his note cards in the air and then just randomly picked them up and added a paragraph based on whatever card he picked up. That's how disjointed and unreadable I found this book.Obviously I am missing something.


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