An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.
On August 3, 1845, young Emily Dickinson declared, “All things are ready” and with this resolute statement, her life as a poet began. Despite spending her days almost entirely “at home” (the occupation listed on her death certificate), Dickinson’s interior world was extraordinary. She loved passionately, was hesitant about publication, embraced seclusion, and created 1,789 poems that she tucked into a dresser drawer.
In These Fevered Days, Martha Ackmann unravels the mysteries of Dickinson’s life through ten decisive episodes that distill her evolution as a poet. Ackmann follows Dickinson through her religious crisis while a student at Mount Holyoke, which prefigured her lifelong ambivalence toward organized religion and her deep, private spirituality. We see the poet through her exhilarating frenzy of composition, through which we come to understand her fiercely self-critical eye and her relationship with sister-in-law and first reader, Susan Dickinson. Contrary to her reputation as a recluse, Dickinson makes the startling decision to ask a famous editor for advice, writes anguished letters to an unidentified “Master,” and keeps up a lifelong friendship with writer Helen Hunt Jackson. At the peak of her literary productivity, she is seized with despair in confronting possible blindness.
Utilizing thousands of archival letters and poems as well as never-before-seen photos, These Fevered Days constructs a remarkable map of Emily Dickinson’s inner life. Together, these ten days provide new insights into her wildly original poetry and render a concise and vivid portrait of American literature’s most enigmatic figure.
About the Author
Martha Ackmann, author of These Fevered Days, Curveball, and The Mercury 13, writes about women who have changed America. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Ackmann taught a popular seminar on Dickinson at Mount Holyoke College and lives in western Massachusetts.
The Emily Dickinson who emerges in this vivid, affectionate chronicle is a complex and warm-blooded individual—as curious, defiant of convention, and passionate in life as in her poems.
A lucid narrative grounded in solid research colored by appreciative warmth...These Fevered Days makes Dickinson’s exploration of that wild terrain [of the mind] and that continent of language palpable, exciting, and accessible.
I quickly came to treasure Ackmann’s ample descriptions, her deep knowledge of the poet’s milieu...[These Fevered Days is] thoroughly researched, and yet, with Ackmann's energetic storytelling, alive.
— Megan Marshall
Enjoyable and absorbing...Dickinson—a poet of those small, insignificant moments that suddenly blossom into wide, disturbing vistas of significance—fits Ackmann’s model neatly. — Scott Bradfield
Ackmann conducted extensive research and relied on Dickinson’s letters to create a sense of her interior life...[She] weaves those clues together beautifully in prose that reads like page-turning fiction...[A] wonderful biography that illustrates the complexity of Dickinson’s life. — Elizabeth Lund
Highly readable...By the end, you'll be a believer, in part because of Ackmann's grasp on her subject—both the mountains of scholarship on Dickinson as well as the poet's historical and cultural milieu—and Ackmann's own formidable gifts as a storyteller. — Ann Levin
Martha Ackmann is a rare scholar. She is steeped in her subject's work, but also fills her book with the light and sounds of Dickinson's home. Dickinson is at once the most mysterious and yet most accessible of American poets, and she led what has been called the most remarkable unremarkable life in American letters. Ackmann does justice to this creative paradox in her warm and stirring book. — Cullen Murphy, Editor-at-Large for the Atlantic
Using an ingenious device to capture the whole of Emily Dickinson’s life by presenting it in ten distinct tableaux, Martha Ackmann illuminates the poet from her first word as a toddler, ‘music,’ to her final written ones, ‘called back.’ In These Fevered Days, the author describes a gift from Dickinson to a friend as ‘exquisite, tender, and intimate,’ words that aptly describe Ackmann’s latest triumph.
This utterly enchanting book invites us into the world Emily Dickinson inhabited and made. With exquisite sensitivity to poet and place, Martha Ackmann illuminates a life simple and complex. Treasures abound on every page. — Ellen Fitzpatrick, author of The Highest Glass Ceiling
These Fevered Days is a contemplative, sometimes lyrical effort to unlock several of the most important moments of Emily Dickinson’s mysterious life. The book brings readers deeply into Emily’s world: the sights she sees from the window of her room, the people with whom she corresponds, the sounds of daily life on the streets of nineteenth-century Amherst. Weaving together numerous sources, Ackmann’s narrative provides thoughtful insights into both the poet and her craft.
— Julie Dobrow, author of After Emily
Gifted storyteller Martha Ackmann deciphers with fresh and compelling insights ten transformational moments in the development of Emily Dickinson's mind. These Fevered Days invites us into the experiences that led Dickinson to assert her ambitions as an artist and decisions as a poet with a vivid immediacy rare among biographical works.
— Jane Wald, executive director, Emily Dickinson Museum