Afternoons with Emily Review
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When I first heard about this book—a work of fiction, based in truth and written about my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson—I just knew I had to read it. I’ve been fascinated by Emily and her reclusive life every since I can remember. In fact, I often feel a kinship with Emily, holed up in my little corner of the world, typing away on my computer, preferring to be alone, while the world passes me by. And I absolutely love her poems.

Afternoons with Emily begins with Emily’s funeral and then steps back in time to tell the story of a young girl named Arethusa Chase—who’s later given her grownup name of Miranda. As a child, she’s kept away from playmates and the outside world because of the possibility that she was born with the tuberculosis that’s slowly killing her mother. After her mother dies, Miranda Chase’s life truly begins. Discovering that she’s no longer held prisoner by a disease, she’s allowed more freedom. Miranda and her father travel to Barbados for a season, and then settle in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she’s invited into Emily Dickinson’s private world for Monday afternoon tea, which goes on for years before Emily’s death.

Emily has a peculiar way of looking at the world, and she’s determined to live her life on her own terms. She doesn’t follow convention, to the shock of those around her, but she belongs to a notable family, so her idiosyncrasies are tolerated. At first, this fascinates Miranda, for she’s so much like Emily—but she yearns for love, an education, and a career in the outside world. Emily, on the other hand, prefers to keep her friends at arm’s length, so she usually communicates through correspondences—and her letters are often shocking in content.

Afternoons with Emily takes readers through the Civil War, drawing on letters and poems written by Emily Dickinson, to put together a portrait of one of the most famous and misunderstood women in history. It’s not an easy task, but Ms. MacMurray manages both to bring Emily to life and to open a fascinating window into her self-imposed sanctuary, as seen through the eyes of a fictitious character named Miranda. Sadly, the author, Rose MacMurray, died in 1997, and this will be her only published novel.

Written with a sense of timeless charm and innocence, mixed with subtle scandalous situations, in the tradition of such novels as The Age of Innocence and To Kill a Mockingbird, Afternoons with Emily has what it takes to become a classic. I dare say that Emily Dickinson will still be discussed decades from now, due, in a small part, to this novel.

If you want an inside look at the life of Emily Dickinson, this is an excellent book to pick up. Plan on a mesmerizing read that you won’t soon forget.

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