Read Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson's Life and Language by Aife Murray Online


In Maid as Muse, Aife Murray explodes the myth of the isolated genius and presents an intimate, densely realized story of joined lives between Emily Dickinson and her domestic servants. Part scholarly study, part detective story, part personal journey, Murray's book uncovers a world previously unknown: an influential world of Irish immigrant servants and an ethnically richIn Maid as Muse, Aife Murray explodes the myth of the isolated genius and presents an intimate, densely realized story of joined lives between Emily Dickinson and her domestic servants. Part scholarly study, part detective story, part personal journey, Murray's book uncovers a world previously unknown: an influential world of Irish immigrant servants and an ethnically rich one of Yankee, English-immigrant, Native American, and African American maids and laborers, seamstresses and stablemen. Murray reveals how Margaret Maher and the other servants influenced the cultural outlook, fashion, artistic subject, and even poetic style of Emily Dickinson. Irish immigrant Maher becomes the lens to a larger story about artistic reciprocities and culture-making that has meaning way beyond Dickinson. This below-stairs, bottom-up portrait of the artist and her family not only injects themes of class and ethnic difference into the story but also imparts subtle details and intimacies that make the study of Emily Dickinson urgent once again. In the kitchen pantry where she spent a good portion of each day, the outside world came to Dickinson. The "invisible" kitchen was headquarters for people mostly lost from the public record--and it was her interactions with them that changed and helped define who Emily Dickinson was as a person and a poet....

Title : Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson's Life and Language
Author :
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ISBN : 9781584656746
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 299 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson's Life and Language Reviews

  • Elise Miller
    2019-03-15 06:02

    The wonderful thing about Maid as Muse, How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language, is that Aífe Murray presents us with a spirit-broadening view of the “servant” in the 19th century – or indeed, any century. And—the amazing thing about Murray’s book is how, through research and a multitude of interviews, she alters our view of Emily Dickinson, the person and the poet. And—the compelling thing about this small but important study—and reason enough to read it—is Murray’s own imaginative command of the English language. I’d better move on! To the kitchen! Right before sitting down to write this review, I emerged from my garage, where I spotted all my husband’s shirts, checked the pants pockets, and loaded the machine. I am a writer who struggles with the combination of the writing life and keeping family physical and household needs met! True, I no longer have to bake the bread. A simple trip to the grocer’s will do. But poet and servant in Murray's book spent long hours doing chores that might have threatened to dull the mind and warp the body - same problems then as now. Though they may be mired in drudgery, Murray never presents the poet or her servants as drudges. In Murray’s hands, servants aspire, admire, ally or strike out independently, and make thoughtful and successful decisions. Irish Maggie Maher is the key figure presented, but Murray never lets us forget that the lively, loyal and intelligent Maher was part of a large contingent of Irish immigrant and African American servants that entered into the life of the reclusive, 19th century poet. Understandably, because of Murray’s own Irish background, we see more of the Irish than the African Americans. But the African American story is, I believe, well and honestly told within the context of the life-language impact on the poet. The book is well-organized, beginning by rooting the scene in the Ireland Maher and her large family left during the famine mid-century. She establishes the family’s connection to the Irish literary tradition as well. She then moves back to Amherst, where the Dickinson family flourished, and what Emily Dickinson’s life was like before her campaign to convince her parents to allow servants into the home. The poet never turned over the kitchen duties as much as shared them. And we learn—in rewarding detail—how Maggie Maher and other servants enabled Dickinson’s literary life, provoked her originality and inspired her imagery and language. Murray’s assertion about Maher’s role in preserving the poet’s legacy provides a remarkable climax to the story. My only qualm in recommending this book is that I wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had not read The Life of Emily Dickinson, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books (2001) by Alfred Habegger just last year. My view of the poet after reading Murray’s book has expanded. Habegger never gave us the full impact of Dickinson's domestic life as prize-winning family baker and avid gardener on her art. And then, Murray never glosses over Dickinson’s own inherited prejudices, but makes it clear that by her death, the poet had come to a startlingly different view of her servants’ place in the world and in her life. Finally, I love Murray’s opening and conclusion, which gives us an entry into the author’s own Irish background. I believe her narrative, because I know the motives for her quest, and how she painstakingly conducted and benefited from her personal and literary journey. If you aren’t already a Dickinson fan, reading this book might make you one — but it will surely make you a fan of Aífe Murray.

  • Daphna
    2019-02-28 04:50

    If, as Adrienne Rich writes in "Vesuvius at Home" and as I fervently believe, Dickinson was aware of her talent and chose the conditions that would allow her nurture it, this book fleshes out a series of those choices. Brought up according to precepts of self-reliance and frugality, Dickinson preferred the warm, noisy kitchen at the back of the house--and the company of the servants there, particularly Irish-born maid Margaret Maher--to the guests in the parlors at the front even long after she was no longer called upon to do the bulk of the Homestead's cooking and baking. This book contains a number of ideas that are, potentially, paradigm-shifting: the notion that Dickinson's productivity was directly correlated with the relief from household duties that the presence of domestic servants provided (and, thus, that the expression of her voice was made possible by others whose voices remain silent); the idea that her diction and syntax are influenced by the patterns of Irish, Hiberno-English, and African American Vernacular English (e.g., often what sound like slant rhymes in Amherst dialect are exact rhymes when said in an Irish accent). Yet this book remains as interesting for the avenues of scholarship it opens up than for the work it does on its own. I do like that many parts of this book read like a novel: I found myself invested in the Kelleys as characters, and I dreaded reading about certain turns I knew the plot would take because of how attached I became. But even more than that, I found myself wishing there were more hallmarks of a classical academic argument, and more of those arguments themselves: Murray points out fascinating directions for future study but does not do as much work as she could to illuminate her own claims--one often has to dig to find the arguments here. Murray doesn't as much close-read or analyze the poems as she plops them in as examples. The scrapbook, pastiche style (especially of the introduction), where photos aren't captioned and material is organized into brief, separately titled sections, allows Murray to make fragmented arguments without needing to knit them into a coherent whole. Additionally, the book has the thrust of a 1970s-era work of revisionary feminism (though, admittedly, it does vital emotional work), not of a 21st century academic tome, and though Murray does a great deal of investigative work in telling the servants' story, she does not cross-check the claims of many biographical accounts of Dickinson--accounts that she knows were written with the authors' personal motives at the fore, and accounts whose use plays into the Dickinson myth rather than mining it for facts. There are many other places where the argument is too speculative: for instance, though the idea that Dickinson produced more poetic work when she had less household work to do is persuasive, the numerical statistics Murray relies on--even after she acknowledges the estimate that less than 10% of Dickinson's letters survive--are not. The book is poorly copy-edited: all kinds of commas surface where they don't belong and are absent where they do. Though I'm grateful for this book and though it will undoubtedly be important in my future work, I couldn't help wishing, often, that there was even more here.

  • Kittybiscuit
    2019-02-19 03:43

    Fascinating material, though highly speculative. No doubt diligently and lovingly researched, but I strongly disliked the disorganized style and lack of throughline.

  • Pearl
    2019-02-18 06:55

    Didn't think the book quite lived up to/proved the premise of the title. A bit scholarly and sometimes a bit dull, the author nevertheless began with a bold premise and explored a side of Emily Dickinson's life that has received scant notice before. The book is very much about the social climate in Emily Dickinson's time and town - the extent to which she overcomes (or more like ignores) the prejudices of her time and the extent to which she quite unconsciously sanctions them. The author presumes a lot, based upon the scraps of paper on which Emily dashed off many of her poems - grocery slips, kitchen ledgers and the like - thus, Dickinson's kitchen help, mainly an Irish immigrant maid, must have had a great deal of influence of Emily's phrasing. Perhaps so.The Irish maid and her family is an interesting story in its own right were there enough material there for an entire book.

  • Nancy Frishberg
    2019-03-06 02:33

    You don't have to be an Emily Dickinson scholar to appreciate how her life circumstances affected her work. Many years ago, Aife Murray related for me the effect of having household help or lacking it with the rhythm of Dickinson's poetic productivity. I was hooked. And then I learned (was I the last?) that Dickinson's work would have been destroyed had it not been for her long-time Irish maid, who saved the work in her trunk. This book expands on the themes of labor, collaboration, language usage, status of women, immigrants, African Americans, New England in the production of art. Walk the footpaths of Amherst from the comfort of your own armchair.

  • Carrie
    2019-02-26 05:42

    I might skip the italicize projections of her life, but besides that, why did it take so long for someone to write this book??

  • John
    2019-02-24 05:42

    Emily & her cohorts---the rest of the story or more of it!!! Kitchen Poet & Culinary Artist!!