Miss Emily: A Novel

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9780143126751: Miss Emily: A Novel

An Amazon Canada Best Book of the Year, the American debut of an award-winning Irish writer that brings to life Emily Dickinson and will enthrall fans of Longbourn and Mrs. Poe and the film A Quiet Passion, starring Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson. 

Nuala O’Connor’s enchanting American debut novel, Miss Emily, reimagines the private life of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s most beloved poets, through her own voice and through the eyes of her family’s Irish maid.

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

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About the Author:

Nuala O’Connor is the author of Miss Emily and a well-regarded short-story writer and novelist in her native Ireland, writing under the name Nuala Ní Chonchúir, and has won many fiction awards, including RTÉ radio’s Francis MacManus Award, the Cúirt New Writing Prize, the Jane Geske Award, the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award, and the Cecil Day Lewis Award, among others. Her short story “Peach” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and she was shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature for her short story collection Nude. She was born in Dublin in 1970 and lives in East Galway with her husband and three children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Miss Emily Dickinson Demands a New Maid
 
July and there is crisis. Father throws down his cutlery and says he will not eat one more burnt potato.
“And I will not baste another seam,” I say, glancing at Mother.
“Margaret  O’Brien  is all but irreplaceable,”  Mother  says, taking a swig of currant wine. “And there are only four of us, with Austin gone. We are a small household. Yes, Margaret  may be missed, but we will manage.”
I think of Margaret, snug now in her marital chambers with her beloved Mr. Lawler, a competent mother to his four orphans. The Lawler house no doubt gleams all around them, and beauti- fully cooked potatoes steam on their dinner plates. I am silenced by Margaret’s defection. Because she toils no more here, I must toil. Am I put out? Yes, I am. Am I anguished? I find that I am.
“Some of us miss Margaret O’Brien dreadfully,” Father says.
“Housework is regularizing, Edward.”
I stare at Mother. I do not wish to be regularized. Or regular. My desire is to be free to pursue the things that please me. And why say it to Father anyway? He is only required to enjoy the spoils of others’ labor.
“Well, replace the irreplaceable Margaret we must, my dear,” he says. “Emily is permanently floured to the elbows, Vinnie is never without a sweeping brush, and you are becoming too often ill from the weight of the household. Even the hens refuse to perform their duty since we lost Margaret. I shall see about a re- placement forthwith.”
I smile around at them all, from Father to Mother to Vinnie. My sister winks at me above the head of the puss she dandles on her lap.
“Do not look so triumphant,  Emily,” Mother says.
I change my facial expression to a more Mother-pleasing one but allow myself to feel exultant. I know that when Father decides on something,  he applies himself to its execution with vigorous care, and I have privately wheedled, cajoled and begged him to right the situation. Father lives and loves ferociously, and, for me, there  is  little  he  will not  do.  We  shall  soon  have  our  new maid-of-all-work.  My shriven hands will look robust once more. No more hauling scuttles or trying, vainly, to get chicken and mushrooms and gravy to magic themselves ready at the same time. No  more will I scrub, peel, milk, feed, wash, lift, scrape and polish. I will bake when the want overtakes me, not when Mother desires a rye loaf or her callers an apple pie. And I will be able to write anytime I please, for as long as I wish, not only in the dull snatches of time between this chore and the next.
I could rise from the table and kiss Father,  here and now. Instead I eat the meal before me, knowing that soon we will sample beautifully cooked potatoes again.

Miss Ada Concannon Is Banished to the Scullery                
 
I lower myself into the Liffey, first to my thighs and then waist-high. It is not too cold; the June days have heated the river, and the water has held the warmth all night. I flop onto my back and push away from the bank with my toes. My underclothes bloom like seedpods. Rose stands at the water’s edge, guarding my dress and boots, the swamp stretching behind her. Her  eyes are fixed to where I loll in the murky river; she is making sure, I suppose, that I am not about to slip from her life as I so often threaten to do.
I look toward the swamp, then spin on my back so I can see our house, a few fields off. While I float on the water, the village of Tigoora stirs much the same as it does every day. In our house Daddy puts on his jacket and thinks, maybe, about his time on the shivering ocean waves. The baronet and his lady snooze on, no doubt, knowing that the live-ins toil already and the rest of us will arrive shortly. Light  seeps upward, diluting  the ashen sky. The small ferryboat rocks, waiting to take us across the river to the Big House to begin our work.
“Ada,  get  out  now,”  Rose  calls. “I  can  see the  ferryman coming. And Daddy, too. He told you not to go in the river.”
I wave to Rose and swim a few strokes on my back. My sister looks like she might weep, so I haul myself out and pull my dress over my soaked underthings. The cloth drags against my wet skin, and Rose tugs at my sleeves and skirt to fix them. I wipe mud from my feet with wads of grass and pull on my stockings and boots.
“Look at your hair,” Rose says forlornly, catching the rope of it and squeezing out drops.
“It’ll be hidden under my cap,” I say. “Don’t fret, Rose.” 
“Once more you stink of the Liffey, Ada.” Mrs. Rathcliffe, the housekeeper, watches while I put on my apron. “And your hair is a shambles. I told your father to warn you not to arrive in that state to this house. Did he speak to you?”
“He did, ma’am.” “And?”
“And I won’t do it again, ma’am.”
“I cannot have you traipsing through the place like a muddy rat.” Cook joins us in the stillroom. “Lady Elizabeth  is coming down this morning to do the menus. You’ll need to get her out of here.” Cook tosses her head in my direction.
Mrs. Rathcliffe looks at me, and I am chastened by her stern face. “Ada, from today you will join your sister in the scullery.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And you will not converse with each other. If I hear one speck of chatter or, God forbid, laughter from the scullery, I will be very, very cross. There will be consequences. Do you understand?”
“I do.”
I leave the stillroom and stand in the passageway. The scullery, I think. I have had my warnings, but I am taken aback. I am dil- igent in my duties in this house, and the scullery is a step down.
They mean me to go backward through this life, it seems. What will the other girls say? And Mammy? Cook and Mrs. Rathcliffe continue to speak, thinking, I suppose, that I am already en- sconced with Rose.
“That Ada Concannon is a peculiarly restless girl,” Cook says. “Her father might do better finding her a husband.”
“I’ll hand over a golden guinea to Concannon if he can find a husband for any of his girls. The men are all dead of the Hunger or gone on the boat. Good luck to him nabbing one man between the eight of them.”
I hear the rustle of Mrs. Rathcliffe’s skirts, and I run along the passageway. Rose smiles when I enter the scullery, her cheeks already glistening from the steam. The room is small, and though Rose is, too, she seems to fill it. I put my finger to my lips.
“I’m to work here with you,” I whisper. “We’re not allowed talk.” Rose grins. “That will hardly suit you, Ada.” She takes a dolly tub from its rack and readies it for soaking clothes. “What will I do, Rose?”
She points to a hare that is stretched out in the cold-water sink. “That needs skinning.”
I grab the hare by the ears and lay it out on a board. Using a small knife, I slit the animal behind the ear and stick my finger inside; I pull the fur off its back and go at the legs.
“I’d rather be laying out the morning tea in the servants’ hall or blacking the grate in Lady Elizabeth’s parlor than doing this.” “Of course you would, Ada. But Daddy did warn you. You wouldn’t be told.”
I throw the hare onto its belly and fillet the back, my knife skimming its backbone as I cut. “God Almighty, will I be stuck here forever?”
“I’m stuck here. It does me no harm.”
“But you’re  content  in yourself, Rose. You know what I’m like—restless as a pup.”
“What’s Daddy going to say to you, Ada? And Mammy?” She puts a bundle of chemises into the tub. “Will you be paid the same as me now?”
I shrug, but I wonder if that is what will happen; the thought of it shames me. I would be better off finding a new position else- where if they mean to make an example of me altogether. I curse Mrs. Rathcliffe. I curse myself for my morning dip in the river.
“I don’t know what’s next for me, Rose. I don’t know at all.”
I cut in under the hare’s ribs, then drag the rest of the meat off with my hands, enjoying the sinewy rip of it. Each pull of the flesh tugs a fierce grunt from my throat.  I glance up to see my sister watching me, and though I smile at her, her look in return is doubtful. I’ ll show them, I think—Cook  and Mrs. Rathcliffe and Daddy and them all. They’ll see that I was made for more than the scullery. I’ll do something  that  will shake the lot of them,  and though I have no idea yet what it might be, it will be big.
Miss Emily Surveys Amherst
 
The July air in Amherst always hums with heat and promise. The conservatory is too greenly stuffy today, so I climb up and up through  the house to the cupola. It is warm too and smells of the camphor gum I scatter to deter moths; I like this place to be truly my own—not even insects are welcome. It is my lamp atop the house, my spy hole.
I peer down onto Main Street, hoping to see Susan walking out from the Evergreens with little Ned, thinking she might pass on her way to the Sweetsers’ house. Alas, she is not abroad. Looking down into the garden, I see that the top of Austin’s Quercus alba is rich with foliage; how proud he is of that  oak. Across the meadow the factory churns out the palm hats that adorn heads from Maine to Oregon. And far off, the Pelham Hills are a lilac shimmer under the haze. I wonder what it would be like to be up on the hills now, looking back at Amherst, all snug and industrious in the summer heat.
I think  of yesterday and the sweet afternoon  I spent with Susan in the garden of the Evergreens.
“Do you realize, Sue,” I said, “that we know each other twenty years this summer?”
“Truly, Emily? Can it be that we first met in ‘46? Why, yes, it must be so.” She smiled one of her glorious smiles, and the lamb hairpin that Austin gifted her on their marriage seemed to smile along with her. “How wonderful to have remained such steadfast friends through all of life’s ripples.” She took my hand in hers and pumped it; we both laughed.
Dear, radiant Sue. Whatever would I do without her? She has a patient, committed ear. She is the only audience my heart trusts, and to her alone I gift my deepest thoughts, my most profound self. For sure we have had our bumps; she is somewhat unknowable and changeable, and I am perhaps a little too needy for her at times. And when she and Austin kept their engagement secret—and for so many months—I  was undone. But we jog along, and all those years ago I soon realized that her being wedded to Austin was an opportunity. What better way to retain a loved friend than through matrimony with one’s own brother? Ten years on from their marriage, it is one of my greatest blessings to have her next door.
Sue lifted her face to me. “I really liked the poem you sent me yesterday, Emily. There is such joy in it. I could not say I under- stood it all, but the image of the bee was rather beautiful. You find poetry everywhere, my dear.”
I can send Sue a note or poem on any old scrap—she does not expect gilt-edged formality. She is as hungry to read my words as I am to write them.  It  is our small conspiracy: I show all my writings to Sue, and she makes helpful remarks that I mull over and accept or reject. Her wish is to help me to accomplish the best possible poem, not mold my words to her desire, which is what I fear from others.
Several women pass on the street below the house, parasols shielding their faces from the sun. I think to let out a cry or make a birdcall, but they might look up to the cupola and see me, catch me in my silliness. It would achieve nothing  but to give them fodder with which to discuss me. Austin says I am much gossiped about already, and clearly it displeases him. But what is there for me to do about it? I have my own ways. I opt not to whistle or startle the parasol women, and they walk on unawares, leaving me free of their glances, their disapproval. But I still ponder that of my brother. He has become stern over the years; he was such a blithe boy. The demands of marriage and upright citizenship have stiffened him somewhat, but surely not completely? He won the prize—Susan! Perhaps he tries too hard to be manly, to be more like Father, and, in trying, he chooses Father’s worst traits to em- ulate. I know not. I only see that the soft brother of our youth hides himself well now.
It is stifling in the cupola, though the full views of Amherst please me; I am an eagless in her eyrie. I look across at the tower atop Austin and Sue’s house and wonder if we will talk again soon, if she will come to me, to sit awhile and tell me of new books she has read or people she has recently met. When  we sat together yesterday, we hardly spoke of now; we let ourselves linger in our younger days, recalling hours spent at her sister’s house when they first moved to Amherst.
I am eager to let Sue know that we will shortly have a new maid and therefore I shall be able to spend more time composing notes and poems to her and maybe, if I am up to it, sitting in her company. Sue’s face is rounded out these days because of the baby that makes a small mountain of her front. The extra flesh on her cheeks suits her, as everything does. Sweet Sue, my own Dollie, my nearly-sister. She is as good as any true sister and more besides.
I take one last look from each of the four windows and de- scend to my room. My desk sits forlorn by the window; a swath of peach light crosses its cherrywood like an invitation.  I look at Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot in their frames on the wall and know that  they understand  my distress at my enforced absence from words.
At night, when I am not too bone weary, I dream. I would love to live in the softer planet of dreams. But if I cannot live in dreamworlds—those palpable fantasies that are conjured from fancy, as much as from the stuff of life—then I am content  to invent parallel worlds. Places of the imagination that I alone can inhabit. And these destinations are made of words.
“Emily! Emily, come now.”
It is Vinnie calling, and I go down to her in the kitchen. She is sweating over a mound of crockery, and it is my duty to help, it seems. One  of her menagerie strolls along the table toward the butter dish, tail cocked like a lord.
“See how Mr. Puss preens,” I say to Vinnie, who smiles the indulgent, motherly smile reserved for her charges.
I grab a cloth and begin to dry and stack the dishes. I lean into Vinnie’s side and chant into her ear:
 
“ —His porcelain— Like a Cup—
Discarded of the Housewife— Quaint—or Broke—
A newer Sèvres pleases— Old Ones crack.”
 
“Less poetry, more drudgery, please, Emily.” She flicks water droplets at my face, and I muss her curls, then pick up another plate to dry it.
“The opposite is my life’s hopeful refrain these days, Vinnie.
‘More poetry, less drudgery.’ Perhaps I could compose a verse on that.”

Miss Ada L...

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Descripción G.P. Putnam s Sons, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. An Amazon Canada Best Book of the Year, the American debut of an award-winning Irish writer that brings to life Emily Dickinson and will enthrall fans of Longbourn and Mrs. Poe and the film A Quiet Passion, starring Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson. Nuala O Connor s enchanting American debut novel, Miss Emily, reimagines the private life of Emily Dickinson, one of America s most beloved poets, through her own voice and through the eyes of her family s Irish maid. Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster s life at home. But Emily s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780143126751

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