Polly Longsworth, editor Austin and
Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love
Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
449 pages, $24.95
There is some element of banality in any love affair that makes it difficult for the outsider to appreciate the full force of other people’s passions. Even the steamy, complicated adultery of Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s beloved brother, and Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of a professor of anatomy at Amherst College, is more interesting to read about in Polly Longsworth’s lengthy introduction to Austin and Mabel than in the selection of the love letters the couple wrote during their thirteen-year affair. It is from the clandestine correspondence (a thousand or more letters and notes) as well as relevant passages from private diaries and journals that Longsworth has constructed this absorbing...