He spent two years on the book, culling through all the letters, biographies, studies, accounts, and poems he could.“I never believed much in her spinsterhood and shriveled sexuality,” Charyn writes in his new book.Charyn’s book quickly sets up themes that reflect more about his own cultural tastes than Dickinson.
A Loaded Gun progresses with a snaking chronology, imitating the slipperiness of its subject.
One chapter, “The Two Emilys—and the Earl,” examines Emily Norcross Dickinson, Emily Sr., in detail, along with Emily’s father, as a portrait of the people who ostensibly best knew her; another chapter is devoted to Dickinson’s very close relationship with her dog, Carlo, her only recorded long-term companion.
Among the better-known works there’s Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, which traces the works that informed Dickinson’s rich interior life; Adrienne Rich’s essay “Vesuvius at Home,” which sees her as feminist forebear; Maureen Mc Lane’s “My Emily Dickinson” from her biblio-memoir My Poets; and Camille Paglia’s essay from Sexual Personae, comparing her to the Marquis de Sade.
Charyn’s book gives a checkered history of the many interpretations of Dickinson, at times attempting to connect them to her actual biography.
“If her poems are like his boxes, a place where secrets are kept, his boxes are like her poems, the place of unlikely things to happen,” Charles Simic is quoted as saying.
Finding similarities between voices in the crowd surrounding Dickinson can be an interesting exercise, if random; though not as random as when Charyn draws a comparison between Dickinson and the dancing of Allegra Kent. The impulse of writers is to read Dickinson herself like a text—with all the problems of interpretation that follow. In her 2012 Paris Review interview, she expressed frustration with those who try to over-decipher the intended of the Master letters: “The constant need of some scholars to decode in these letters a flesh-and-blood lover belittles the ferocity of her poetic calling,” she said.
He starts to trace key disputes in Emily Dickinson scholarship, from the intended recipient for her Master letters—a major clue to a possible hidden romance—to her jumbled publication history.
(Her editors Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd removed her punctuation, then her heirs began to find more unpublished poetry and letters—as did their children.) There was no complete volume of Dickinson’s poetry until 1955.
picture her writing by oil lamp in the dead of night, dressed in white, seated at a tiny desk.
A wisp of red hair falls across her face, but she is lost in a world of words while the rest of the household, in fact all of Amherst, sleeps.