Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I've been meaning to read this book ever since I first read about it when it came out two years ago. I finally picked up a paperback copy recently and have had to force myself to stop reading it so I can have a life outside the world of Emily Dickinson and her family and friends and misinterpreters, or as Gordon's subtitle puts it: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds.

Maybe you have to care about Emily Dickinson or love her poetry or be a history buff—especially of the 19th century (and the early 20th as well in this book's case)—to be as engrossed as I've been in LIVES LIKE LOADED GUNS since I started reading it.

But I don't think so. In fact, it reads like a terrific mystery, one that it seems to solve with well researched and well reasoned examinations of the various myths and interpretations of Dickinson's poetry and life.

I had my own version, deduced from various biographies and my reading of her poems. I taught it to college students back in the early '70s. It was based partly on the new wave of feminists' reinterpretation of the lives of women, especially historical figures like Dickinson. Gordon proves me wrong as well as some of the most noted experts, let alone Dickinson's family members.

Not only does LIVES LIKE LOADED GUNS dispel the more contemporary interpretations of Dickinson's life (that replaced the earlier equally misguided ones) but she lays bare an impressive array of evidence resolving all the big questions about Dickinson's secrecy, and seemingly self-enforced solitude, and love life, and love objects and self awareness, until everything you thought you knew about "the nun of Amherst" you discover you had wrong.

And Gordon does this with such great timing in revealing the story that I couldn't help thinking what a great movie this would make. One of those period biographical films the Brits specialize in, but much more gritty and sensual and dramatic (even operatic) and revealingly, even shockingly, raw in ways that would make "reality" TV shows seem tame.

I loved it.


Anonymous said...

I shall also read this book, as I have read several interesting books about E.D.
Have you read AUSTIN AND MABEL, by Polly Longsworth, which details the love affair between Austin Dickinson and Mabel Todd?
I was rather horrified how Mabel took it upon herself to EDIT Emily's poems for publication!


Lally said...

I haven't read it, but Gordon refers to it though she, Gordon, in LIVES LIKE LOADED GUNS draws different conclusions about that relationship in a way I find incredibly well reasoned. The mystery surrounding Emily continues but I think Gordon resolves some things pretty permanently. Interestingly, she makes Mabel look both worse and better than she's been portrayed before in anything I've read, and I suspect you'll find that true too. She was more of a conniving liar than portrayed previously but also deserves more credit for recognizing Emily's poetry's importance and getting it published etc., with less editing than others proposed. Anyway, I think you'll dig it.