“The untold story of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Secret Love’ can now be told in its entirety. She disclosed their affair and his name via acrostics and anagrams in the tradition of the French court-love poets.” It does that and more. As sometimes exasperatingly obscure poems hit you, Bill Arnold details exactly which code unravels the mystery of who was the Master in her life. The poems are preceded by interesting prose passages and the book is rounded out with a biography of the author. It’s a compact easy to read book and pleasant to handle. Now, readers can know that her secret love was Sam Bowles, a publisher of the Springfield Daily Republican, and an intimate of her brother Austin. In a book of this nature the problem is always that of trying to strike a balance between giving the reader too much help or too little. Bill Arnold is a Dickinson scholar who has put sufficient details to prove why the scandalous relationship did not surface in Emily Dickinson’s lifetime. As the author comments, “Thus, the reason Emily Dickinson remained unpublished in her lifetime becomes self-evident.” The secret-love affair is not so shocking as revealing of what her poems mean, and her anagrams do “now make sense.” Although Bill Arnold may have given some readers a bit more help than they need, on the whole he seems to have struck a nice balance, and most readers will probably find most of his notes and commentary to be both helpful and illuminating. It is an excellent introduction to those who know little of the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson.
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