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Lives Like Loaded Guns


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About the Author

Lyndall Gordon is the prizewinning author of biographies including CHARLOTTE BRONTE, VIRGINIA WOOLF, SHARED LIVES and MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. Born and raised in South Africa, Lyndall is a fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford.


Noted literary biographer Gordon (senior research fellow, St. Hilda's Coll., Oxford; Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life) combed the archival record, including newly available materials, and presents a twofold thesis about her subject: first, that Dickinson's seclusion was due to an epileptic condition; second, that the question of who should manage and present to the world Dickinson's oeuvre and the details of her life has been influenced by a family feud that began in Dickinson's lifetime and continues to color scholarship to this day. The key person in this feud was Mabel Todd, who became the mistress of Emily's married brother Austin, altering the relationships among the remaining principals: Austin, Emily, their sister Lavinia, and Austin's wife, Sue. The first portion of the book, drawing extensively on Dickinson's own words put into context as explanation of her physical and mental state, is speculative and not entirely convincing as proof of epilepsy. The second part, however, on the nature and impact of the feud, is well developed and engrossing. VERDICT This new interpretation of the poet's life is a necessary addition to all literature collections, academic and public.-Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

This biography is informed by two revelations: first, a bombshell that is likely to be debated as long as there are inquiring readers of Emily Dickinson; and second, the effect of a family love affair on the poet's long and complex publishing history. When Dickinson writes "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" and punctuates her work in a spasmodic style, Gordon maintains we are privy to the neuronal misfiring of epilepsy. Gordon unearths compelling evidence: the glycerine Dickinson was prescribed, then a common treatment for epilepsy; her photosensitivity; and a family history of epilepsy. The stigma-packed condition, says Gordon, is at least one source of Dickinson's celebrated isolation. Gordon, biographer of Virginia Woolf and Mary Wollstonecraft, also recounts the fallout from the affair between the poet's straitlaced, married brother, Austin, and the far younger, also married Mabel Loomis Todd. In a literary land grab, descendants of the families of Dickinson and Todd (who edited many of Emily's papers) squared off in a fight to control the poet's work and myth. Although deciphering Emily Dickinson's mysterious personality is like trying to catch a ghost, this startling biography explains quite a lot. 16 pages of b&w photos; 2 maps. (June 14) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

""Lives Like Loaded Guns."..reads like a fabulous detective story, replete with hidden treasure, diabolical adversaries and a curse from one generation to the next...Gordon is fair to all...revealing their strengths and liabilities, and she corrects some of the inconsistencies of earlier biographies..."Abyss has no biographer," Dickinson warned future readers. But Gordon is not frightened of the pits and traps and the thousand masks that Emily wears. She takes us into undiscovered territory."
-"The Washington Post "
"Fascinating...[Gordon] shatters the Dickinson myth, revealing for the first time the twisted tale of how Dickinson came to be revered as "a harmless homebody shut off from live to suffer and contemplate a disappointment in love...".Brilliant literary detective work...Uncovering the mystery of why the mischievous, sensible creature who emerges from this biography hid from the world is where Gordon hits her stride...Gordon catches the poet's essence, allowing u

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