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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, this engaging, insightful portrayal of Emily Dickinson sheds new light on one of American literature’s most enigmatic figures.
On August 3, 1845, young Emily Dickinson declared, “All things are ready” and with this resolute statement, her life as a poet began. Despite spending her days almost entirely “at home” (the occupation listed on her death certificate), Dickinson’s interior world was extraordinary. She loved passionately, was hesitant about publication, embraced seclusion, and created 1,789 poems that she tucked into a dresser drawer.
In These Fevered Days, Martha Ackmann unravels the mysteries of Dickinson’s life through ten decisive episodes that distill her evolution as a poet. Ackmann follows Dickinson through her religious crisis while a student at Mount Holyoke, which prefigured her lifelong ambivalence toward organized religion and her deep, private spirituality. We see the poet through her exhilarating frenzy of composition, through which we come to understand her fiercely self-critical eye and her relationship with sister-in-law and first reader, Susan Dickinson. Contrary to her reputation as a recluse, Dickinson makes the startling decision to ask a famous editor for advice, writes anguished letters to an unidentified “Master,” and keeps up a lifelong friendship with writer Helen Hunt Jackson. At the peak of her literary productivity, she is seized with despair in confronting possible blindness.
Utilizing thousands of archival letters and poems as well as never-before-seen photos, These Fevered Days constructs a remarkable map of Emily Dickinson’s inner life. Together, these ten days provide new insights into her wildly original poetry and render an “enjoyable and absorbing” (Scott Bradfield, Washington Post) portrait of American literature’s most enigmatic figure.
Martha Ackmann, author of These Fevered Days, Curveball, and The Mercury 13, writes about women who have changed America. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Ackmann taught a popular seminar on Dickinson at Mount Holyoke College and lives in western Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xiii
1 All Things Are Ready 1
2 It Is Hard for Me to Give Up the World 26
3 I've Been in the Habit Myself of Writing Some Few Things 50
4 Decided to Be Distinguished 71
5 Taller Feet 92
6 Are Yon Too Deeply Occupied to Say If My Verse Is Alive? 116