As someone whose heroes are almost exclusively literary, it is hard to describe the emotions I felt discovering the love affair that occurred in the summer and fall of 1851 between Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville. Apart from its sensationalism as a news item, what most stands out for me is how moving it is. Many of my friends remain skeptical. But the manuscript I found in the Berkshires now two years ago speaks for itself. In any event, now that Emily & Herman (Arcade Publishers, New York) is available in bookstores, the world can judge for itself.
This extraordinary story has eluded generations of literary scholars and New England historians. Over time these two iconic authors have become disembodied voices from the past, subjects for doctoral theses and tee-shirts. But in the reality of their time they were made of flesh and blood. He was a handsome 32-year-old aristocrat, married, landlocked and hen-pecked, oppressed by debt and family obligations. She was only 20, a pretty, vibrant and inquisitive lover of literature with a razor-sharp sensibility. Given the circumstance that they shared a carriage to Boston and then an overnight ferry to Manhattan, something was bound to happen. In terms of genuine romantic passion their liaison dangereuse was the high point for the both of them. Though short lived it consecrated and then broke their hearts, staying with them for the rest of their days.
My skeptical colleagues, looking to rile me, make fun of my naiveté and dearth of irony when it comes to Dickinson and Melville's romance. But I am not without a sense of humor. Leaving Emily & Herman apart and sacrosanct, I submit the following list of other authorial pairings, each of them as impossible as they would be delicious.