Mr. Emerson’s Wife


Lidian (née Lydia) Jackson is thirty-three years old when she first meets Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1835. A strong-willed and intelligent woman, Lidian never expected to marry, and is both flattered and hesitant when young Emerson proposes marriage soon after they meet. Though Emerson promises her a new kind of partnership, based on egalitarian principles, Lidian discovers that living in the shadow of her husband’s ideals (and his obsession with his first wife) is not easy. As soon as she becomes a mother, Lidian is no longer privy to her husband’s philosophies and thoughts, and their “new partnership” provides no solace or intellectual stimulation. Over time, as Emerson seeks out other companions, Lidian is attracted to his friend and protégé, Henry David Thoreau. Lidian struggles to stay faithful to her family, to Henry, and to herself.

Lidian and Henry are sympathetic characters, and so too is Ralph Waldo Emerson, in spite of his treatment of his wife. All three can debate with well-articulated arguments, but their own feelings and emotions are not so neatly summed up. This is a fascinating and thoughtful tale; the Emersons, Thoreau, and their transcendental community vividly come alive. Brown’s style is lyrical, no easy feat when capturing philosophical rhetoric. My one quibble is that although Brown admits to conjecture, she doesn’t elaborate, so it is difficult to know what is fact and what is fiction. Mr. Emerson’s Wife reads almost as a creative and beautifully-crafted biography. Recommended.

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