Alice Dickinson, a young advertising executive in London, decides to take time off work to research her idea for a screenplay: the true story of the scandalous, adulterous love affair that took place between a young, Amherst college faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the college s treasurer, Austin Dickinson, in the 1880s. Read more...
Alice Dickinson, a young advertising executive in London, decides to take time off work to research her idea for a screenplay: the true story of the scandalous, adulterous love affair that took place between a young, Amherst college faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the college s treasurer, Austin Dickinson, in the 1880s. Austin, twenty-four years Mabel s senior and married, was the brother of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, whose house provided the setting for Austin and Mabel s trysts.
Alice travels to Amherst, staying in the house of Nick Crocker, a married English academic in his fifties. As Alice researches Austin and Mabel s story and Emily s role in their affair, she embarks on her own affair with Nick, an affair that, of course, they both know echoes the affair that she s writing about in her screenplay.
Interspersed with Alice s complicated love story is the story of Austin and Mabel, historically accurate and meticulously recreated from their voluminous letters and diaries. Using the poems of Emily Dickinson throughout, Amherst is an exploration of the nature of passionate love, its delusions, and its glories. This novel is playful and scholarly, sexy and smart, and reminds us that the games we play when we fall in love have not changed that much over the years."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-12-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Nicholson (The Trial of True Love) offers up a cinema-ready exploration of love and lust in New England past and present. Present-day heroine Alice, an aspiring screenwriter, travels from England to Amherst, Mass., to conduct research for her screenplay about Emily Dickinson’s affair. Alice’s own story—which includes a passionate affair with a much older man—alternates with the story of her historical subjects: Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, and his younger lover, Mabel, the married wife of an Amherst College professor. Their story suggests that Emily, who permitted the couple to liaise in her house, was herself obsessed with Mabel, who eventually championed the poet’s work after Emily’s death. The historical segments—in many ways more vivid and lively than the somewhat melodramatic contemporary ones—are well researched, although passages from the subjects’ letters and diaries are injected awkwardly into the text. Both Austin and Mabel are complicated characters, and though there’s nice balance between the dual narratives, one senses that Nicholson struggled with the dilemma of how to impose a fictional story onto real-life events. (Feb.)