White Heat

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-12-01
  • Publisher: Anchor
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Wineapple gives a radiant portrayal of one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters--between the elusive, original poet Emily Dickinson and Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the radical abolitionist, reformer, and writer.

Author Biography

Brenda Wineapple is the author of Genet: A Biography of Janet Flanner; Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein; and Hawthorne: A Life, winner of the Ambassador Award of the English-Speaking Union for Best Biography of 2003. Her essays and reviews appear in many publications, among them The New York Times Book Review and The Nation. She has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lives in New York City and teaches creative writing at Columbia University and The New School.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Introduction: The Letter
The Letterp. 3
Thomas Wentworth Higginson: Without a Little Crack Somewherep. 17
Emily Dickinson: If I Live, I Will Go to Amherstp. 35
Emily Dickinson: Write! Comrade, Write!p. 63
Thomas Wentworth Higginson: Liberty Is Aggressivep. 81
Nature Is a Haunted Housep. 101
Intensely Humanp. 120
Agony Is Frugalp. 146
No Other Wayp. 161
Her Deathless Syllablep. 182
The Realm of Youp. 197
Moments of Prefacep. 214
Things That Never Can Come Backp. 230
Monarch of Dreamsp. 247
Pugilist and Poetp. 255
Rendezvous of Lightp. 264
Beyond the Dip of Bell
Poetry of the Porfoliop. 271
Me-Come! My Dazzled Facep. 288
Because I Could Not Stopp. 302
Acknowledgmentsp. 319
Notesp. 323
Selected Bibliographyp. 373
Emily Dickinson Poems Known to Have Been Sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginsonp. 385
Emily Dickinson Poems Citedp. 389
Indexp. 395
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


The Letter
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me--
The simple News that Nature told--
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see--
For love of Her--Sweet--countrymen--
Judge tenderly--of Me

Reprinted by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel
Loomis Todd in Emily Dickinson,Poems(1890)
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?" Thomas Wentworth Higginson opened the cream-colored envelope as he walked home from the post office, where he had stopped on the mild spring morning of April 17 after watching young women lift dumbbells at the local gymnasium. The year was 1862, a war was raging, and Higginson, at thirty-eight, was the local authority on physical fitness. This was one of his causes, as were women's health and education. His passion, though, was for abolition. But dubious about President Lincoln's intentions--fighting to save the Union was not the same as fighting to abolish slavery-- he had not yet put on a blue uniform. Perhaps he should.

Yet he was also a literary man (great consolation for inaction) and frequently published in the cultural magazine of the moment,The Atlantic Monthly,where, along with gymnastics, women's rights, and slavery, his subjects were flowers and birds and the changing seasons.

Out fell a letter, scrawled in a looping, difficult hand, as well as four poems and another, smaller envelope. With difficulty he deciphered the scribble. "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?"

This is the beginning of a most extraordinary correspondence, which lasts almost a quarter of a century, until Emily Dickinson's death in 1886, and during which time the poet sent Higginson almost one hundred poems, many of her best, their metrical forms jagged, their punctuation unpredictable, their images honed to a fine point, their meaning elliptical, heart-gripping, electric. The poems hit their mark. Poetry torn up by the roots, he later said, that took his breath away.

Today it may seem strange she would entrust them to the man now conventionally regarded as a hidebound reformer with a tin ear. But Dickinson had not picked Higginson at random. Suspecting he would be receptive, she also recognized a sensibility she could trust--that of a brave iconoclast conversant with botany, butterflies, and books and willing to risk everything for what he believed.

At first she knew him only by reputation. His name, opinions, and sheer moxie were the stuff of headlines for years, for as a voluble man of causes, he was on record as loathing capital punishment, child labor, and the unfair laws depriving women of civil rights. An ordained minister, he had officiated at Lucy Stone's wedding, and after reading from a statement prepared by the bride and groom, he distributed it to fellow clergymen as a manual of marital parity.

Above all, he detested slavery. One of the most steadfast and famous abolitionists in New England, he was far more radical than William Lloyd Garrison, if, that is, radicalism is measured by a willingness to entertain violence for the social good. Inequality offended him personally; so did passive resistance. Braced by the righteousness of his cause--the unequivocal emancipation of the slaves--this Massachusetts gentleman of the white and learned class had earned a reputation among his own as a lunatic. In 1854 he had battered down a courthouse door in Boston in an attempt to free the fugitive slave Anthony Burns. In 1856 he helped arm antislavery settlers in Kansas and, a loaded pistol in his belt, admitted almost sheepishly,
"I enjoy danger." Afterward he preached sedition while furnishing money and morale to John Brown.

All this had occurred by the time Dickinson asked him if he was too busy to read her poems, as if it were the most reaso

Excerpted from White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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