Kirkus Reviews, June 27, 2018
Library Journal, starred review, 7/26/18
Historical Novel Society
The Washington Post
November 21, 2018
December 17, 2018
Long list copy from the Plutarch Award, Biographer’s International, January 14, 2019:
THE LEGACY OF AMERICA’S GREATEST POET by Julie Dobrow, (W. W. Norton) A public scandal, a bitter lawsuit, and a decades-long dispute over the tiny hand-sewn books of poetry discovered in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom at the time of her death propel Julie Dobrow’s narrative of an ambitious mother-daughter pair whose work shaped American literary history. Dobrow’s impressive scholarship, crystal-clear prose, and insistence on the value of lives on the edge of history’s spotlight make this a uniquely memorable and instructive biography.
To write this remarkable biography, Dobrow has turned the Todd-Bingham archives at Yale’s Sterling Library inside out. By doing so, she has succeeded in illuminating more fully than ever before the intricate net of desires, both conscious and unconscious, that led Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham to undertake the editing of Emily Dickinson’s writings that secured their place in literary history while irreversibly altering the trajectory of their own lives. The force of Dobrow’s portrait of Todd, the better known and more mythologized (sometimes demonized) of her two subjects, lies in its embrace of the conflicting aspects of Todd without denying any of them; the power of her depiction of Bingham issues from the probing analysis of Bingham’s profoundly conflicted feelings about her brilliant, transgressing parents and the impact of those sentiments on her connection to Dickinson. Dobrow’s research greatly enlarges our sense of both women’s humanness; in her rendering of Millicent Todd Bingham, last in a long line of Wilder women, biography fuses with American tragedy. After Emily is also a book for and of our time: a meditation on the nature of agency and the role of affect in women’s lives and writing; a story of the archives we create during, and sometimes even in lieu of, our lives; of the archives that represent us after our deaths; and of the abyss at the heart of all archives. Looking back from the far horizon of Dobrow’s meticulously researched and absorbing biography, we should not be surprised that while Todd and Bingham come ever more sharply into focus, Dickinson herself flickers in and out of the light, at last receding to an unfathomable distance.
Marta Werner, Professor of English, D’Youville College, author of Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios and Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings
Julie Dobrow has written an honest, sometimes searing portrait of the two idiosyncratic women, mother and daughter, who between them delivered Emily Dickinson’s “letter to the World”— rescuing this genius hermit from obscurity by deciphering and publishing her sheafs of high voltage poetry. Inevitably, AFTER EMILY is also a portrait of the social mores and literary convictions of an America hurtling toward modernity. Riveting, unblinkered, sad, and brave, AFTER EMILY makes the case for these two posthumous amanuenses as urgent agents of critical work we came so near to losing.
Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Hiddensee
With this book, Julie Dobrow adroitly recounts the complex scope of how the Dickinson and Todd families intersected in Amherst, Massachusetts and beyond to present Emily Dickinson, poet. From 1888 to 1968, the Todd women worked to give Emily her due, often in opposition to the Dickinson women. Mabel Loomis Todd’s role has been recounted before but less known is how her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, shaped and completed the legacy of Emily Dickinson. Today, 50 years later, the entire nuanced and complicated story of these two women and Emily Dickinson is ours at last in this diligently sourced and compellingly written history.
Marianne Curling, Curator, Amherst Historical Society
Julie Dobrow has grabbed a tiger by the tail in her skillful reanalysis of Mabel Loomis Todd’s role in recognizing, preserving, publishing and promoting Emily Dickinson’s powerful poetry. Yet Mabel’s story is only the half of it. Emotional turmoil, resulting from her years-long, half-secret, love affair with the poet’s brother Austin, subsequently led each of the lovers’ daughters to battle furiously and for decades over the publication rights to the poet’s remaining trove. This study focuses on the complex, extensively documented, relationship between Mabel and her conflicted daughter Millicent, who was impervious to her mother’s charms, but not to duty, truth, regret, and the vital importance to the world of Dickinson’s poetry. Dobrow weaves the vitality of the personal into her scholarship, surprising and enlightening readers about one of America’s greatest literary rescues.
Polly Longsworth, author of Austin and Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd
“Julie Dobrow has crafted a meticulously researched work that is both an insightful literary appreciation and a compelling period drama.”
– Neal Shapiro, President and CEO, WNET/Channel 13 New York