The Voice at the Door: A Novel of Emily Dickinson
Using the discovery of a fictitious uncle’s posthumous ”manuscript,” Sulzer’s novel presents Emily Dickinson in an intriguing light: Though few of her poems were published in her lifetime, Dickinson wrote massive amounts of passionate and spiritual poetry in private. Educated first at Amherst Academy, then later at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she eventually became the family stalwart and the town recluse.
Sulzer suggests the trajectory of her later life can be traced to her first meeting with Reverend Charles Wadsworth in Philadelphia, March of 1855. The encounter is a surprising meeting of minds for both, leading to fervent correspondence that takes fire. His marriage is lackluster, but he’s an honorable man, confining his emotions to the page. In Sulzer’s book, during a visit from Wadsworth, Emily “seizes the moment,” and the moment’s consequences may explain her later unwillingness to leave the house.
The story unfolds in present tense, with a moment-to-moment feel that makes it hard to put down. Sulzer obviously has done his research homework, honing in on those areas that have many interpretations, making a convincing case for his own. This artful telling almost lifts the veil of mystery from one of America’s most mysterious poets.
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