Afternoons with Emily

Written by Rose MacMurray
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

This novel, which echoes of the style of some novels of the 19th century, immediately enveloped me, and it has not let go, even though I finished some days ago. It is narrated by Miranda Chase, who is a very young girl at the start of the book. She describes herself as a “true New Englander,” and lives in Boston with rather distant parents. Her life changes when her father engages an unconventional tutor for her—she becomes spellbound by learning. Later in her childhood, after an idyllic interlude living in Barbados, she and her professor father move to Amherst, Massachusetts. Here, she is granted the rare honor of being invited to visit the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Miranda soon begins to visit her weekly, and gains much from these meetings, while at the same time recognizing Emily’s faults.

I had eagerly looked forward to meeting the poet in these pages; however, her willfulness and her habit of speaking in CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis made the acquaintance pale. This was particularly true in comparison with the engaging Miranda, whom we follow as she grows to adulthood. However, the author’s conception of Emily does seem plausible, and she has clearly researched Emily carefully, though the sources of information for establishing her character are limited.

Miranda conceives of and builds a life devoted to changing the nature of early childhood education, and the constraints that mid-19th century New England and New York society place upon her come vividly to life. Indeed, Miranda’s entire milieu is carefully limned, a world in which other readers will, I predict, lose themselves completely, as I did. The author died in 1997. This is, regretfully, her only novel.