My reading this afternoon is desultory but interesting. I'm shuttling among volumes. I'm in the midst of Emily's letters to Samuel Bowles and his wife Mary. I didn't know who they were so I looked them up in the index of the Dickinson biography I own, by Cynthia Griffin Wolff (inscribed in neat penmanship by me, 1/31/87, New York City; purchased at, I believe, the delightful Three Lives Bookshop in the Village (does it still exist?)), and read the relevant pages. Then it occurred to me to see if Bowles is mentioned in the Charyn novel (which I've put down since I last sat quietly on the artist's porch or beneath his lilacs - the novel is strongly connected for me now with those pleasant hours). Indeed he is, quite a scene, culminating in, ostensibly, an attack of sciatica. I know nothing about sciatica but I believe that Mr. Bowles' eyes seeming to "disappear in his skull," his beginning to shake, and ultimately "shuddering once" is of a different nature. Oh that Emily, not an altogether reliable narrator - though given her nature, the truth outs. Like Lolita on the sofa with H.H., Emily too, thankfully, is an actor in her own pleasure - "I touched his beard, not to excite, but to console him. Yet it did excite me, the silk of it, that fine jungle of hair..."
Exacerbated perhaps by the sultry heat I have a dreamy amalgam of Emily's actual letter-writing voice; an image of Mr. Samuel Bowles, the handsome, engaging, and energetic editor of the Springfield Daily Republican, who while devoted to his children and his wife was attracted to lively, witty, attractive women and maintained complicated, intimate relationships; and an image of a couple in a parlor, the ages we are now, who look not so different from you and me.
From Emily Dickinson, by Cynthia Griffin Bell (page 398):
Some of Dickinson's readers have speculated that Bowles may have been the object of her unrequited passion. There is no way to disprove such a theory, but it seems unlikely. It is easy to imagine Emily Dickinson's falling in love with a married man, especially if he returned her passion; it is easy to imagine her becoming resigned to never being able to marry him. But it is not easy to imagine her doing so when the married man in question was already engaged in flirtations of varying degrees of seriousness with her sister-in-law, one of her sister-in-law's friends, and a learned Northampton woman [Maria Whitney] whose ardent feelings were reciprocated. Nothing in Emily Dickinson's character suggests that she would have been willing to become one of a group of admiring females... Perhaps the most telling evidence... is Bowles's inability to appreciate the power of her talent or the depth of her intelligence. What Dickinson consistently craved was a response to the subtlety and range of her own intellect, imagination, and sensitivity; the intractable loneliness that seems always to have beset her derived not primarily from her secluded life, but from the absence of genuine equals with whom she could be "herself." The love poetry speaks consistently of parity and mutuality, and whatever his other virtues may have been, Sam Bowles could probably not have offered these to any woman. It never seems to have occurred to him to offer them to Emily Dickinson.***
Okay, maybe I can work with this, compose a craigslist ad? No - better! An NYRB personal.
Married, perimenopausal poetic blogger stuck in country seeks response to her subtlety and range. Weathered garden nursery worker leered hungrily at me as recently as yesterday - why not you? He didn't know from marine bells - browallia, barked his wife. Right! I'll quote Emily Dickinson letters at you. She rocked, as I'd like to, but don't fear - I look nothing like her. Have been described by ancient paramour as earth goddess mixed with otherworldly love poet. Yeah that, and trapped in post-Chanel Martha Stewart body, when a different body type was the ideal. Cut to the chase: mature Slavic good looks, and if you like prehistoric Venus figurines you'll love me, only better. Lifesize, not palm. Hair long enough to pin up, and I know now to pay attention to the back of my neck. Hope you like spicy Sicilian chicken, roast chicken, taboulleh salad, scrambled eggs, chocolate chip cookies - because that constitutes the core of my culinary repertoire. Add to that a casual approach to housekeeping, although I'll hop to immediately if you say please do underwear...***
I guess that ad in the NYRB would set me back - what? A lot. Needs editing. Maybe I should post it on craigslist. Nah, I'm too lazy, especially with slow downloads. I know. Right here, right now.
un chanson d'amour, de la vie, je vous aime cherie...