Review: Choice On Line

Murray (independent scholar) offers a treasure trove of information in this meticulously researched study. As the title reveals, the volume delves into the influence that servants in the Dickinson household had on the poet’s artistry, cultural views, and relationships with other people. The author argues that servants’ influence was considerable, though their role has been ignored in most scholarly work on the poet. Dickinson’s personal maid, Margaret Maher, an Irish immigrant, garners most of Murray’s attention, but a host of other employees in the Dickinson household–housekeepers, stablemen, and seamstresses, some of whom were Native or African American–are also examined. Among the volume’s highlights is a charming and previously unpublished essay by Josephine Pollitt Pohl (Appendix A) titled “Emily Dickinson–Loaf Giver,” which follows Dickinson into the kitchen as she makes her father’s favorite bread. Offering an eclectic mix of scholarly and fictional narrative, photographs, genealogical charts, personal reflections, and even recipes, Murray transports the reader into the Dickinson home to witness the poet’s interactions with the staff, who not only kept the household running but also shaped her worldview. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.

D.D. Knight, SUNY College at Cortland – published September 2010 in Choice Magazine