So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Brief Tragedy: Unravelling the Todd-Dickinson Affair

by John Evangelist Walsh

I picked up this book because I was interested in whether the sexual relationship between Emily Dickinson's married brother Austin and Mabel Todd, wife of an Amherst professor, had any grounding in the Free Love movement of 19th Century USA.
The Free Love movement’s goal was to prevent the state from legislating sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery, claiming that these were personal issues of the people involved, and no one else. In the United States there were several 19th century Free Love advocates who lectured to packed houses. While Free Lovers argued for the rights of women, they were often rejected by the leaders of the first wave feminist movement.
Both Austin and Mabel, and her husband David, do seem to feel they are engaged in activities that should not be judged by the community, yet John Evangelist Walsh looks on their activities with a Puritanical eye. He spends most of the book portraying Austin's wife Sue as a wronged woman and Mabel as a home wrecker and opportunist. While Walsh quotes often from Mabel's letters journals and diaries to build his case, he never uses Sue's writings, leaving this a very one-sided presentation. There is a sub-plot of how Mabel Todd became, after Emily Dickinson's death, the first editor of Dickinson's poetry and letters which is also marred by this one-sided attack on her character.
While the story of the Dickinsons and the Todds is a very interesting one, Walsh's telling of it is lacking in depth, and will appeal mostly to those interested in protecting the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nikola The Outlaw.
Ivan Olbrecht

Nikola the Outlaw is set in the Ruthenian region of Czechoslovakia just after World War I. This area is now the Zakarpatska province of Ukraine, but at the time it was part of a newly formed nation. Nikola and his Ruthenian friends, who were in the Austrian army, return from the war and decide it is easier to be outlaws than to fit into a new social order run by Czech soldiers and Jewish shopkeepers. Living in the mountains with the secret support of many of the townspeople, they evade capture and become local heroes. However, as the village settles into its new life, the outlaws find it harder to maintain their existence. Rich in cultural details, the novel provides a detailed look at Ruthenian life in the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia.