The Diary of Emily Dickinson by Jamie Fuller is an ambitious project that recreates the life of Emily Dickinson, a hermetic poet from Amherst, with her poetry and from the letters that remain from her life. Fuller has done her research, which is clear from the annotations that accompany poems and diary entries. But what’s disappointing is that Fuller’s diary entries — while they mirror Dickinson’s style — do little to extrapolate from the letters or poems to create something new. Readers will want a fictionalized Emily to be more revealing, not more obscure than what she left behind.
“A captured bird mutes its tune.” (pg. 95)
There are gems in some of the diary entries that allude to Emily’s views on marriage and how it would interfere with her poetic work. She has been called to write poetry, and while she does household chores, she clearly had greater leeway with her family than she would with a husband or children of her own. In this way, Fuller has called attention to an age-old problem many women face when they marry — how do you balance the expectations of being a wife and mother with your own dreams and desires. This would be particularly difficult in Emily’s time.
The prologue is the most creative bit about the book in which Fuller describes the how the diary came to be saved when so many letters were burned by Emily’s sister. After reading through the poems you remember, you wonder what do the diary entries add. Unfortunately, they add very little and leave readers wondering if they should have spent their time reading her poems, creating their own narratives for Emily alongside what facts are available from the letters that have survived.
The Diary of Emily Dickinson by Jamie Fuller had potential, and while readers know that Emily was a hermit for much of her life and lived with her family and her poetry, Fuller has not taken the creative leap to bring us into the mind of a poet. The novel feels flat and two-dimensional. The saving graces here are Emily’s own poems and the annotations from letters and facts discovered in the historical record.