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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Expressing what was possible but not yet realized

William Nicholson's latest novel 'The Lovers of Amherst' tells the story of an affair between Emily Dickinson’s brother Austin and the wife of a colleague, seen alongside a contemporary story, also involving a love affair. Nicholson says, 'Austin Dickinson’s passion for Mabel Todd is fascinating because it was so defiant of all convention – so much so that in order to justify what he was doing he concluded that his love must come from God. Tracking his affair, and Emily’s part in it, led me to reflect on Emily’s own attitude to sex and passion; and from there to my own attitudes. The result is a many-layered meditation on passionate love, with all its self-generated delusions as well as its glories.'

Speaking about Emily Dickinson in The Observer, Nicholson says: 'I’ve always loved her poems. I’ve always been interested in religious subjects and relationships, and here was a woman struggling with issues of loneliness, meaninglessness, value and beauty, excitement and wonder, all in such a tiny compass. A lot of people in this country don’t know her and I felt quite missionary about it.'

The novel is in some ways: 'my love letter to the poet Emily Dickinson, who I first encountered over forty years ago. Her poems shock and thrill me as much today as they did then. She herself is so unfathomable that I’ve been shy of writing about her, though over the years I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge about her, as well as a first edition of her poems, published in 1890. Then when Polly Longhurst published her edited edition of the letters and diaries of Emily’s brother Austin, relating his passionate adulterous affair with the wife of a colleague, I became fascinated by the world of the Dickinsons. The result is my new novel.'

'A poet who took definition as her province, Emily Dickinson challenged the existing definitions of poetry and the poet’s work. Like writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, she experimented with expression in order to free it from conventional restraints ... To make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison, Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized.'


Emily Dickinson - I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

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