LITERATURE

These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson

Norton. Feb. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780393609301. $26.95. LIT
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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.”

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