All posts by Julie Dobrow

Emily, Mabel and the change of season

I’m thinking this week about a couple of lines from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Summer begins to have the look” (poem 1693 in the Franklin edition, 1682 in Johnson). In the second stanza of this poem, Emily wrote that “Autumn begins to be inferred” by the changing types of clouds or the intensifying hues that start to cover the landscape. As usual, she encapsulated it brilliantly.

This is the time of year in New England when summer, indeed, starts to have a certain look: plants look tired, the grass is tinged brown. The light at different times of day has changed. Trees have begun to hint at the brilliant palette they’ll soon fully reveal. It’s no longer really summer, and not yet really fall.

Mabel, too, wrote frequently of her love for autumn, about the changes it brought and the associations it brought her. She’d written in 1879 of her hopes for her yet-unborn daughter, “My little child must worship the sky, and exalt in the autumn.” Early in her relationship with Austin she penned, “All his life he has passionately loved all nature. The autumn chirp of crickets thrills him most pressibly, and the misty hills and the first red leaves.”

And years after Austin’s death, still mourning him, the start of fall brought bittersweet associations:  “Austin dawned upon my horizon, and I recognized him – and never more on earth or in heaven can I know loneliness or despair. In each of my heights a higher one; to all my aspiration a celestial lift above my idealist dreaming.  And so the glory grew and grew, and the autumns were ever more holy time, the springs a benediction. In the streams of leaves, the windy sky, the far lights on the hills, the crisp air, the early twilight drawing in where a hearth fire should have burned – in the pathetic green grass, velvety under the low sun – in all the sweetness, the sadness of this dear month, I saw a radiant light beyond earth, because one noble soul lived who fitted me and complemented my heart. And now the hills lie under the sky with a beauty that stills the heart from beating, the sky, the sun, all are more beautiful than I ever have seen before.”

So here we are, on the precipice of season’s change. With the start of the new school year and the new semester, the pace of life has quickened for me. And we all, as Emily wrote, “reluctantly but sure [perceive]” this change in the tempo of life, as summer inexorably gives way to fall.

Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash


Bookending the book

We’d just finished delivering our youngest child to begin his first year at Amherst College. Save the forgotten pillow and the quick trip into the mall in Hadley (to say nothing of the 90+ degree heat) it had been an easy, almost seamless transition. We were feeling great about the journey our son was beginning. We got into the car and started up Main Street in Amherst to get back on Route 202 and start our own journey home. As we passed The Homestead, Emily’s house, the light turned red. I quickly checked email on my phone. And there, amazingly, was a note from the wonderful editorial assistant with whom I’ve worked at Norton: “Hi Julie, Finished copies of AFTER EMILY landed in our offices this morning – they look stunning! Congratulations on this beautiful book.”

The symmetry and symbolism bowled me over. “How is this possible?” I asked my husband. “We are LITERALLY in front of Emily’s house!” He turned from the steering wheel to face The Homestead and shouted, “The book is done!”


It felt like one of those precious, miraculous moments of convergence. A moment that you just can’t really explain.

I’ve certainly had a few of these moments over the past few years as I worked on this book. I’ve had times I could swear I heard Mabel or Millicent whispering in my ear. I’ve had flashes of insight into these women that have made feel like I was inside their heads, articulating things that perhaps they thought but never dared commit to paper. I’ve walked in houses they walked in and felt echoes of past footsteps on dark wooden stairs. I got up early one morning on Hog Island, saw the light on the bay and smelled the salt on my skin; a centering sense of calm came over me and I knew for certain why it was the Todd family felt that this was one of the most special places on earth.

And now this. It seemed like such an amazing sense of bookending a book. The process which in some ways started right there in Amherst so many years ago, would in one sense be completed in the very same place.

Of course the original title of my book was Outside Emily’s Door. Here I was, outside Emily’s door, maybe 50 yards away from it, and I found out that the completed copies of my book were delivered to W.W. Norton. It will soon come to me, and then, on October 30th, to you.