Robin Tremblay-McGaw has a great little review of Aífe Murray’s Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language (2010). The review includes a generous selection of extended quotes from Murray’s text, giving readers a good sense of the pleasures in Ms. Murray’s prose. Murray has made the working poor of nineteenth century Amherst visible, showing the ways in which their contributions to the Dickinson household economy not only enabled ED’s artistic independence but created the linguistic and social bases from which Ms. Dickinson’s poetic experiments grew. A must read, which gives a critical reading to the conventional notion of the artist as isolated genius:
That ‘social text,’ that fleshy real world was inhabited by maids, laundry workers, seamstresses, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, basket weavers, laborers, stablemen–all of whom Emily knew by name. The poet may have traded on stereotypes (what Folsom and Price call vortex words) that telegraphed charged images to her readers. What’s to be made of Emily’s relationships to the people behind these stereotypes? This was the social context of her art-making, the whole roster of people who make the work possible and ‘fuel the fantasy of independence. Ironically, it is this very support that allows the practice of art making to appear as the ultimate expression of individual freedom.
To learn more, see Aífe Murray and her work, see her Maid as Muse web site.
Murray, Aífe. Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2010.