Review originally published in Library Journal, June 2021.
In 1869, Margaret Maher, 27, begins temporary maid service for the wealthy Dickinson family at stately yellow Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, with hopes to join her brothers in California. Mr. Edward Dickinson, the Squire, both a lawyer and college treasurer, deems Margaret essential, offering higher pay but also a veiled threat to her brother-in-law Tom’s job should she leave his employ. The eldest Dickinson, Emily, always clad in white garb, only leaves her room to occasionally tend to the gardens or bake gingerbread in the kitchen. At first Emily teases her for being Irish, dubbing her Maggie, but they form an integral bond, each falling in love, losing love, and grieving loss. The reclusive, eccentric Emily writes letters and exercises her brilliant mind writing poetry in secret, asking Maggie to hide it and promise to burn it upon Emily’s death. Maggie spends 30 years with the Dickinsons, comforting Emily through the loss of her father, mother, and young nephew. When Emily passes at age 55, Margaret makes the tough choice to go against Emily’s wishes, choosing to preserve her poetry as a legacy to be shared with the world. Brown’s prose is captivating, sprinkled with historical accuracy regarding what is known of Emily Dickinson’s peculiar life. The characters truly come to life with Brown’s fictional spin and dramatic flair. VERDICT: Fans of Marie Benedict and Kate Quinn will delight in this moving story which sheds light on the life of one of literature’s most influential, yet most mysterious poets in history.