Literary Musings

Enigmatic Recluse or Sheltered Genius? A Tribute to Emily Dickinson

While scrolling through social media, it’s not usual for me to stop because a word or words grab my attention, but sometimes I simply had to go back and read the lines that had caught my eye. More often than not, it turned out to be one of Emily Dickinson’s poems.

They’re light in the sense that she tended to use simple, everyday words, often sparingly. Yet, vivid images spring out from them to capture one’s imagination. Or her deep concepts compressed into a few lines oblige one to delve deeper into her poems.

Her verses aren’t pretentious, though she was as well-read as any man of her era. Yet, it seems she didn’t choose grandiose words to impress anyone, especially as most of her poems went unpublished during her lifetime. Read More→


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Did Little Women’s Jo March Become a Writer After All?

Jo March, the standout sister of Little Women (1868), was the idealized alter ego of her creator, Louisa May Alcottboth were tomboyish, with a bit of a temper. Like Louisa, Jo was completely dedicated to the pursuit of writing and the writer’s life. Or was she?  Certainly, that was her stated ambition in Little Women, in which we witness the birth of her first book. 

I can’t think of another fictional character who inspired generations of real-life aspiring female writers. It’s almost easier to find writers who weren’t at least a little influenced by Jo, than those who were. Because so, so many young wordsmiths wanted to grown up to be like Jo.

Though Jo longed to be a writer more than anything, she also sought a happy medium between achieving independence and finding love, something that was expected of women of her time. That’s why she felt she had to turn down Laurie’s proposal (much to the chagrin of millions of readers). Read More→


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A Tribute to Claudia Emerson, Poet and Friend

Claudia Emerson (1957 – 2014) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book Late Wife in 2006.  I think she would have been eventually chosen as the United States Poet Laureate if her brilliant career hadn’t been cut short by cancer.

She not only published eight collections of verse, but she was also a gifted teacher and musician. I knew her because we were in the same class at Chatham Hall, an all-girls’ school in Pittsylvania, County, southside Virginia. We were the class of 1975.

Chatham Hall was founded in 1894, originally named Chatham Episcopal Institute, and our most famous graduate was Georgia O’Keeffe. The school’s motto is Esto perpetua – “Let it be perpetual.”     Read More→


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Jane Austen’s Childhood and Glimpses of Her as a Young Woman

Jane Austen by Sarah Fanny Malden (1889) offers an excellent 19th-century view of Jane Austen’s works, along with a handful of chapters on the life of this beloved British author. This excerpt, featuring one such chapter, offers glimpses of Jane Austen’s childhood and what she engaged with as a young woman.

Born in Steventon, Hampshire (England), Jane (1775 – 1817) was part of a convivial middle-class family consisting of five brothers and her sister Cassandra, with whom she was very close. Her father was an esteemed rector. Jane spent the first twenty-five years of her life in Steventon, after which the family moved to Bath.

Mrs. Malden said of her sources, “The writer wishes to express her obligations to Lord Brabourne and Mr. C. Austen Leigh for their kind permission to make use of the Memoir and Letters of their gifted relative, which have been her principal authorities for this work.” Read More→


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Writing for Madame: The Complex Friendship of Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir first met the French author Violette Leduc in 1945. At the time, de Beauvoir and her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre were the golden couple of Parisian intellectual circles, while Violette Leduc was a struggling writer mired in poverty.

Their first meeting, in the heady atmosphere of the Café Flore on the Left Bank, came only after Leduc had observed de Beauvoir and Sartre from a distance for several months, gathering the courage to introduce herself.

The resulting friendship seemed unlikely. Yet it lasted for several years, with mutual respect and admiration that survived Leduc’s unrequited attraction to de Beauvoir as well as the differing circumstances of the two women and their wildly diverging experiences of success. Read More→


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