White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
By Brenda Wineapple
Knopf, 2008
432 pp. $27.95
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In a brilliant account of one of the oddest literary friendships in American history, Wineapple recounts the extraordinary story of two very different American writers: the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson and the fiery abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Higginson, an unrepentant backer of John Brown and commander of the first African American regiment raised from freed slaves during the American Civil War, was a lifelong champion of women's rights. Dickinson called Higginson her "master" and repeatedly turned to him for literary advice; after her death, Higginson helped shepherd her fugitive, haunting verses into print. In a bizarre twist of fate, Higginson was pilloried by the next literary generation as the stuffy voice of the genteel American tradition, whereas the Maid of Amherst became a celebrity. This is a wise and engaging book offering useful insights into the minds of New Englanders and the politics of American culture. Wineapple's deep appreciation of Dickinson and support for Higginson's causes allow her to see this friendship whole, to appreciate both protagonists, and to show what these two representatives of the New England tradition saw in each other.