The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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September 3, 2010

From my reading: Pause for what lies between the scenes

'Mabel worked at first on the borrowed Hammond typewriter, then on a more primitive 'World' machine that cost her $15. She had to turn a pointer manually to each letter, and then stamp the letter (capitals only) on to paper through an inked rubber sheet. It was laborious, exhausting.'

{I found this striking (truly, no pun intended) image of an 1886 World Typewriter here.}

Pause. Pause for what lies between the scenes, the unseen space where so much happens. No facts come to is from 1888 and 1889 as Emily Dickinson is hauled to the surface — the great lines swimming into focus as Mabel Todd types ‘My life has stood — a Loaded Gun —‘ … ‘Mine — in Vision and in Veto’ …’Vesuvius at Home’ … ‘My life closed twice before its close.’ For Mabel to have kept going, day after day for two or more years was an extraordinary feat. It was fuelled by a sure response to the poems. Mabel Todd’s venture was completely under wraps because, of course, Vinnie was deceiving Susan, compounding her betrayal in the matter of adultery. Throughout those years, Vinnie feared Susan, and her master plan was not to reveal Mabel’s part. In the end, the poems would be published, and no one was to know how they had come to be presentable to editors.
Here, Lavinia erred; she took Mabel’s enthusiasm, genuine as it was, for granted. … Lavinia did witness Mabel’s effort, she saw how long it took, but as an old-fashioned gentlewoman Lavinia had no idea that Mabel Todd, as a New Woman contributing two to three years of her professional time, might expect recognition.
The mistake was not entirely Lavinia’s fault. It was Mabel’s habit to project a ladylike passivity. Others approach her, others ask her to do things, and when they don’t it’s destiny taking a hand, like the impulse that compelled Austin to take her warm, waiting hand that rainy evening at the gate of The Evergreens on 11 September 1882. … Far off in the future people would say that Lavinia Dickinson approached her brother’s mistress and asked her to take over the editing — in secret — from her sister-in-law. Mabel Todd complied as a favor to Lavinia, a huge favour, people would say. This was the Todd story in retrospect. Afterwards she reassured Higginson that Sue ‘gave it up definitely. Then Lavinia came to me…So you see Mrs. Dickinson can have no real cause for complaint.’

Mabel Todd is a plausible propagandist for her story because she sticks close to the truth, deviating, often, with one word. Apart from ‘definitely’ in this case, it’s the apparently insignificant word ‘then’ that shifts the sequence in favour of innocent passivity. Look like the innocent flower. To us in the future, the manoeuvre can look like the merest slip of memory. Only it’s there too often to be a slip. It’s an almost automatic untruthfulness, the insignificant cog driving the wheel of a plot Mabel sets in motion.

— from Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds,
by Lyndall Gordon

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1 comment:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Very cool -- and I love seeing anything from that time period, the typewriter always makes me impressed with what people created at a time when we were all still learning, you know?

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