These fevered days Ten pivotal moments in the making of Emily Dickinson

Martha Ackmann

Book - 2020

"An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America's greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry. 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 ambivalent toward 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, her startling decision to ask a famous editor for advice, her anguished letters to an unidentified "Master," her exhilarating frenzy of composition, and her terror in confronting possible blindness. Together, these ten days provide new insights into Dickinson's wildly original poetry and render a concise and vivid portrait of American literature's most enigmatic figure"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Dickinson, Emily
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New York, NY : W. W. Norton & Company, Inc [2020]
Main Author
Martha Ackmann (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxiii, 278 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Author's Note
  • 1. All Things Are Ready
  • 2. It Is Hard for Me to Give Up the World
  • 3. I've Been in the Habit Myself of Writing Some Few Things
  • 4. Decided to Be Distinguished
  • 5. Taller Feet
  • 6. Are You Too Deeply Occupied to Say If My Verse Is Alive?
  • 7. Bulletins All Day from Immortality
  • 8. You Were Not Aware That You Saved My Life
  • 9. Success Is Counted Sweetest
  • 10. Called Back
  • Acknowledgments
  • Illustration Credits
  • Permissions Credits
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Ackmann's literary biography of Emily Dickinson takes a unique approach, focusing on 10 periods in the poet's life that represent significant growth or change rather than chronicling her life as a whole. The result is a deep dive into the milieu and mind of the elusive poet, beginning at 14 and ending with Dickinson's death. Ackmann combines rigorous scholarship, thorough explication of the poems, and a sharp familiarity with the geography of Dickinson's world in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a fiction writer's sensibility. Indeed, the book feels like a novel, and casual readers will be greedy for what happens next, while those steeped in Dickinson's poems will delight in learning about the moments that gestated them. For example, a passage about snakes in a letter to a friend clearly represents the seeds of "A narrow Fellow in the Grass." This is not a hagiography that whitewashes Dickinson's complexities; rather, it is an affectionate and knowledgeable look at the person and the poet. Read this with R. W. Franklin's edition of Dickinson's poems close at hand.WOMEN IN FOCUS

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Ackmann (Curveball), expanding on her Mount Holyoke seminar on Emily Dickinson, recounts 10 days in the poet's life in this excellent literary study. Some of the days covered initially seem trivial--as when, on Aug. 3, 1845, 14-year-old Dickinson wrote a letter to her school friend Abiah--but Ackmann excels at revealing her subject's passion and vibrant imagination even in innocuous moments. Others are more distinctly significant, such as Dickinson's first meeting with longtime correspondent Thomas Wentworth Higginson on Aug. 16, 1870. (Fortunately, Higginson wrote down every detail he remembered, including Dickinson commenting "if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.") Ackmann freely draws from historical records, poems, and letters, sampling some of Dickinson's best bon mots, as when, complaining about her chores, she implores, "God keep me from what they call households." Though far from comprehensive, Ackmann's account gets to the core of her subject with remarkable clarity. Though the book's Dickinson can be odd, ethereal, and contradictory, other qualities emerge as well--her humor, charm, and unwavering confidence in her own work. The result is a remarkably refreshing account of one of America's finest poets. (Feb.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

At age 14, Emily Dickinson (1830--86) committed herself to the writing life, beginning her journey as a poet who would challenge and ultimately alter the ethos of America. Ackmann (Curveball) posits that decisive episodes in Dickinson's life contributed to her evolution as a strikingly singular voice in American poetry. The author probes Dickinson's legacy by focusing on her unsparing ambition, her refusal to commit to mainstream religion, her meticulous process of revision and belief in the sustaining power of art, and her reclusiveness as she aged. Also touched on are Dickinson's close family relationships, her friendship with author Helen Hunt Jackson, and key figures instrumental to the development of her poems, including the mysterious "Master," to whom Dickinson addressed dozens of letters. The book closes with the poet's death at 56 and the discovery of nearly 2,000 poems hidden away in a dresser drawer. VERDICT The compelling, eminently readable, novel-like style of Ackmann's writing makes this new take on the poet's artistic and personal growth highly recommended for both scholars and casual readers long captivated by the "Belle of Amherst."--Denise J. Stankovics, Vernon, CT

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

The reclusive American poet emerges vividly in an imaginative examination of her life.The subject of many biographies, critical studies, and a one-woman show, as well as the protagonist of several novels, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) has remained an enigmatic figure: a shy wraith, dressed in white, refusing to allow publication of her poemsnearly 2,000, discovered after her death. Guggenheim fellow Ackmann (Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, 2010, etc.), who has taught a Dickinson seminar at Mount Holyoke College, persuasively counters that view with a fresh approach to Dickinson's life and work. Focusing on 10 turning points, she creates in each chapter "a snapshot" of that moment "with the past in dissolve like a multiple exposure." Drawing largely on Dickinson's poems and letters, the author portrays the young Emily, surrounded by family, corresponding with friends, growing into self-awareness of her creativity. "She wanted to understand the particles of moments that others could not see or grasped with a faith she found too easy," writes Ackmann. When she was pressed about her religious conviction, Dickinson admitted doubt: "I both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour." Her poetry, though, probed the ineffable, aiming for "evanescence like the brilliance of lightning, the flash of truth, or a transport so swift it felt like flight." By the time Dickinson boldly sent four poems to Atlantic editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, she was composing nearly a verse a day: "My business is to sing," she announced. Even more than her sister-in-law, among the few with whom Dickinson shared her poems, Higginson recognized, admired, and nurtured Dickinson's "strange power." Perhaps, he wrote to her, "if I could once take you by the hand I might be something to you." After eight years of corresponding, when they finally met, Dickinson effusively confided in him intimate details about her family, poetry, and dreams. Afterward, she felt "elated, emboldened, and slightly off-kilter." As for Higginson, her intellectual intensity exhausted him.Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet's sensibility make this biography extraordinary. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.