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Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and…
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Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds (original 2010; edição 2011)

por Lyndall Gordon

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3541354,590 (3.86)30
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.
Membro:twinkelbel
Título:Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds
Autores:Lyndall Gordon
Informação:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 512 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca
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Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds por Lyndall Gordon (2010)

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Though I have not read other biographies of Emily Dickinson, I feel this one must be definitive. Gordon clearly has painstakingly researched the entirety of the Dickinson archives and has presented an nearly unbiased recording of Emily Dickinson's life and the incredible drama that surrounded her and her work. I say nearly unbiased because it seems as though Gordon's only bias is towards the poet, Emily Dickinson, who's whole entire legacy has been wanting and waiting to be told honestly and free from agendas. Gordon has satisfied this want. ( )
  amberluscious | Feb 11, 2021 |
I knew next to nothing about Emily Dickinson, when I came across this fascinating-looking work in a charity shop!
An extremely erudite and well-researched account (the author is a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford); the book takes us back to Emily Dickinson's young life, living in Amherst with her correct parents and an unmarried sister; next door lives upright brother Austin and his wife, Sue. We see a very different Emily from the simple recluse of popular mythology; Gordon describes a flirtation with a married man, and a meaningful entanglement with another. But her life is beset by some unspecified and secret illness; Gordon convincingly posits the theory that it was epilepsy: the doctors seen, the prescriptions filled, the lines in her poems...and her subsequent withdrawing from the world. Emily's life centred on her writing, much of which she shared with her sister-in-law next door.

Into this world comes pretty young faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and nothing will ever be the same again, as Austin falls prey to her charms...more secrecy, assignations (how will Emily and her sister react?) And this whole lengthy scenario continues after the poet's death with rival factions trying to get possession of her works. Money, power, emotion, fame, resentment...all play their part in the lengthy struggle between Ms Todd, Emily's surviving sister and the family of poor wronged wife Sue, who owned so much of the work. And indeed into the next generation...

For me, the machinations over who owned what, the competing books brought out by separate camps, went on a tad, but I found the poet's life quite unputdownable! ( )
1 vote starbox | Sep 15, 2018 |
An odd and not entirely successful book. There are really two books here: one a biography of Emily Dickinson, featuring a provocative thesis that she suffered from epilepsy; another an account of what happened to Dickinson's literary estate and legacy after her death, featuring the machinations of Mabel Loomis Todd. Gordon might have done better to pick one of those topics and expand it rather than try to fit both into the same book. As it is, both feel underdeveloped and in the second half, as the reader follows the life of Mabel Loomis Todd's daughter Millicent (who never met Emily Dickinson herself, mind), reading the book becomes something of a chore.

For a really excellent one-volume biography of Emily Dickinson, try Alfred Habegger's [b:My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson|63842|My Wars Are Laid Away in Books The Life of Emily Dickinson (Modern Library Paperbacks)|Alfred Habegger|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1170619355s/63842.jpg|1758832]. (There is of course also a two-volume biography of her, in which she is famously not born until the second volume. But Habegger is well-written, fascinating, and features less back-story.) ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
An odd and not entirely successful book. There are really two books here: one a biography of Emily Dickinson, featuring a provocative thesis that she suffered from epilepsy; another an account of what happened to Dickinson's literary estate and legacy after her death, featuring the machinations of Mabel Loomis Todd. Gordon might have done better to pick one of those topics and expand it rather than try to fit both into the same book. As it is, both feel underdeveloped and in the second half, as the reader follows the life of Mabel Loomis Todd's daughter Millicent (who never met Emily Dickinson herself, mind), reading the book becomes something of a chore.

For a really excellent one-volume biography of Emily Dickinson, try Alfred Habegger's [b:My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson|63842|My Wars Are Laid Away in Books The Life of Emily Dickinson (Modern Library Paperbacks)|Alfred Habegger|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1170619355s/63842.jpg|1758832]. (There is of course also a two-volume biography of her, in which she is famously not born until the second volume. But Habegger is well-written, fascinating, and features less back-story.) ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This is a great, great book. I suggest stopping what you are doing now and reading it instead.

I had not the slightest interest in Emily Dickinson until a few years ago, around the age of 50, or perhaps, this year at the age of 53. Until then I read her, and shrugged. Then, suddenly, I was ready, and she began to speak to me. Go figure.

It was on NPR that I heard Lyndall Gordon's thesis that Dickinson may have had epilepsy. As the father of a young man with epilepsy I found the evidence of Dickinson's epilepsy to be strikingly plausible. Gordon acknowledges that the case cannot be proven, but evidence certainly extends beyond poetry. There are medicines purchased (glycerin, a 19th century epilepsy treatment) and specialists visited (in faraway Boston, by a woman who preferred not to venture abroad.) There is the fact of several other family members with the condition. There is the choice of non-marriage and seclusion, consistent with the sense of shame that 19th century society associated with the loss of control. There is also, allusively and suggestively, when framed by this external evidence, her poetry itself. I cannot do the epilepsy argument full justice, but as one who knows epilepsy, trust me when I say there is a ring of truth here. It's not impossible, not by a long shot.

The epilepsy discussion is however only one chapter among many, and hardly the author's most central argument. Gordon places Dickinson in her full historical and social context to better illuminate the "volcanic" dynamics of her family, including her brother Austin's affair with Mabel Todd, her "sister" (in law) Susan's fears of marriage to Austin and Emily's passionate devotion to her, and the acid personalities of the Dickinson clan. Gordon uses the subsequent century long feud between the two factions of the family and their descendants to help us understand, retrospectively, who the people who surrounded the poet were. She uses their conflicts as a way of chipping away at the falsehoods and myths that, until very recently, have dominated interpretations of Emily Dickinson's life, and poetry.

One facet among many that Gordon describes is Emily's sexuality or passion. We learn that she had a passionate physical (if "unconsummated", we presume) relationship with a man (Judge Lord) in later life. (Did you know that? I did not.) We learn that the family lived with the reality of her brother Austin's affair with Mabel Todd, a truth that could never be spoken out loud. And we witness her own expressions of passion for various women which, in typical 19th century fashion, leave open the question of physicality. When combined with the possibility of epilepsy ( a shameful force that took over the body and caused it to shake and lose control, possibly associated with "hysteria" or "masturbation" in the 19th century mind) a portrait emerges not of an ethereal recluse afraid to be in the physical world, but of a woman with body awareness and body experience, an embodied mind.

Gordon's book is a revisionist history, attacking what appears to be the predominant view of the Todd camp, in which Austin Dickinson's wife Susan is made out to be a villain. Gordon makes a persuasive case "against" Mabel Todd and "in favor" of Sue Dickinson, but the book is more than that - in illuminating Todd's self-aggrandizing power play to be the true inheritor of Emily Dickinson's legacy, she describes a conniver and a climber and a liar, yes, but also a woman who is fascinating in her own right.

As the first Dickinson biography that I've ever read, I can't tell you whether this effort to set the record straight has got it right. I can only say that I found it enormously persuasive, meticulously scholarly, and deeply in touch with Emily Dickinson. This "in touchness" stems from the author's use of the surround to comprehend the focus. Dickinson is but half real if we imagine her only through her writings and poems. But the act of examining every life around her, every facet of her world that can still be known, from economics, to law, to sex, to social relationships, and every conflict that flowed forward through history, creates an astonishing clarity about who she, the hidden poet, really was.

I am reminded of the empty corpse forms of Pompeii, spaces in the volcanic ash, whose reality was a negative space, that had to be filled with plaster to be revealed. Emily Dickinson is all but vanished in a biographical sense - only the bones of her poetry and letters remain - but when the shape of everything that touched her is understood, the space that she occupied, the shape of her form, is wonderfully illuminated.

I recommend this book as an act of scholarly conjuring and a gripping literary detective story.
( )
1 vote hereandthere | Apr 8, 2013 |
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In 1882 Austin Dickinson, in his fifties, fell in love with a young facutly wife.
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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.

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