White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
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White Heat is the first book to portray the remarkable relationship between America's most beloved poet and the fiery abolitionist who first brought her work to the public.
As the Civil War raged, an unlikely friendship was born between the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a literary figure who ran guns to Kansas and commanded the first Union regiment of black soldiers. When Dickinson sent Higginson four of her poems he realized he had encountered a wholly original genius; their intense correspondence continued for the next quarter century. In White Heat Brenda Wineapple tells an extraordinary story about poetry, politics, and love, one that sheds new light on her subjects and on the roiling America they shared.
would soon discover. (As the poet Richard Howard has pointed out, finishing poems may not have interested her: “her true Flaubert was Penelope, to invert a famous allusion, forever unraveling what she had figured on the loom the day before.”) She kept variants and appears not to have chosen among them, sometimes toying with as many as eight possibilities for words, line arrangement, rhyme, enjambment; nor did she choose among alternative endings. And frequently she composed on scraps of
city smelled of honeysuckle and spring. A slight breeze rippled over gauzy curtains, lamps burned low, and at half past eleven, Thomas Wentworth Higginson died. The funeral took place two days later, on May 13, 1911, and while unfussy in some respects, it was completely unlike Dickinson’s obsequies some twenty-five years earlier. For this was a public event, full of pomp and circumstance, although Higginson had specifically requested there be no eulogy. There was, as ever, a simplicity to his
man, seems to have disapproved. A dutiful daughter, Vinnie trembled before her father even after he died and resented him a very long time. In later years, after Emily’s death, she eagerly recounted tales of their father’s tyrannies, unbottling years of pent-up rage. William Austin Dickinson, 27 years old, 1856. “We’re all unlike most everyone.” Lavinia Dickinson at 19, in 1852. “The tie is quite vital.” Mostly, and like all Dickinsons, she did not publicize regret. Instead she grew
Diadems—drop— And Doges—surrender— Soundless as Dots, On a Disc of Snow. White alabaster chambers melt into snow, vanishing without sound: it’s an unnerving image in a poem skeptical about the resurrection it proposes. The rhymes drift and tilt; its meter echoes that of Protestant hymns but derails. Dashes everywhere; caesuras where you least expect them, undeniable melodic control, polysyllabics eerily shifting to monosyllabics. Poor Higginson. Yet he knew he was holding something amazing,
adequately compensated, despite facile assurances from the War Department. “At a time when it required large bounties to fill the Northern regiments with their nine months men,” Higginson complained to Charles Sumner, “these men enlisted for three years without bounty, without even State aid to families relying solely on the monthly pay. For five months they received it…and then Government suddenly repudiated it and cut them down to $10.” Now they were paid seven dollars, not even the ten dollars