Cover image for Amherst
Nicholson, William, author.
Personal Author:
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Physical Description:
287 pages ; 25 cm
A novel about two love affairs set in Amherst--one in the present, one in the past, and both presided over by Emily Dickinson.
General Note:
"Originally published in 2015 in Great Britain by Quercus Editions Ltd."--title page verso.

"Simon & Schuster fiction original hardcover."

Format :


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From an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and the author of Motherland , a novel about two love affairs set in Amherst--one in the present, one in the past, and both presided over by Emily Dickinson.

Alice Dickinson, a young advertising executive in London, decides to take time off work to research her idea for a screenplay: the true story of the scandalous, adulterous love affair that took place between a young, Amherst college faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the college's treasurer, Austin Dickinson, in the 1880s. Austin, twenty-four years Mabel's senior and married, was the brother of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, whose house provided the setting for Austin and Mabel's trysts.

Alice travels to Amherst, staying in the house of Nick Crocker, a married English academic in his fifties. As Alice researches Austin and Mabel's story and Emily's role in their affair, she embarks on her own affair with Nick, an affair that, of course, they both know echoes the affair that she's writing about in her screenplay.

Interspersed with Alice's complicated love story is the story of Austin and Mabel, historically accurate and meticulously recreated from their voluminous letters and diaries. Using the poems of Emily Dickinson throughout, Amherst is an exploration of the nature of passionate love, its delusions, and its glories. This novel is playful and scholarly, sexy and smart, and reminds us that the games we play when we fall in love have not changed that much over the years.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Londoner Alice Dickinson, age 24, is working on a screenplay about the real-life love affair between Austin Dickinson, poet Emily Dickinson's solemn older brother, and the younger, spirited Mabel Loomis Todd. Alice heads to Amherst, Massachusetts, once home to the Dickinsons, now the site of an extensive Dickinson collection, to begin her research. There she connects with 55-year-old professor Nick Crocker, who offers her use of a guest suite at his house. As Alice begins uncovering unexpected facts about the long-ago relationship, she gets involved with the charismatic yet complicated Nick. Acclaimed British novelist and screenwriter Nicholson (Motherland, 2013) alternates between Alice and Nick's tangled affair and his imagined version of the romance between Austin and Mabel, from their first meeting, in 1882, to a deepening commitment and somewhat unconventional arrangement (Mabel's spouse is aware of and encourages their liaisons), which lasts until Austin's death, in 1895. Nicholson also draws on the mystique surrounding the reclusive poet. Mabel is captivated by Emily and determined to publish her work posthumously, while Alice's vision of Mabel shifts and sharpens. Weaving voices of the past and present, Nicholson creates an engaging, many-faceted novel that deftly explores the timeless torments of love and loneliness.--Strauss, Leah Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nicholson (The Trial of True Love) offers up a cinema-ready exploration of love and lust in New England past and present. Present-day heroine Alice, an aspiring screenwriter, travels from England to Amherst, Mass., to conduct research for her screenplay about Emily Dickinson's affair. Alice's own story-which includes a passionate affair with a much older man-alternates with the story of her historical subjects: Emily Dickinson's brother, Austin, and his younger lover, Mabel, the married wife of an Amherst College professor. Their story suggests that Emily, who permitted the couple to liaise in her house, was herself obsessed with Mabel, who eventually championed the poet's work after Emily's death. The historical segments-in many ways more vivid and lively than the somewhat melodramatic contemporary ones-are well researched, although passages from the subjects' letters and diaries are injected awkwardly into the text. Both Austin and Mabel are complicated characters, and though there's nice balance between the dual narratives, one senses that Nicholson struggled with the dilemma of how to impose a fictional story onto real-life events. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Nicholson's new novel is about two love affairs that center on the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Londoner Alice Dickinson (no relation) is a young advertising executive who takes time off to work on a screenplay. Her topic is the scandalous real-life love affair between Mabel Loomis Todd, a young faculty wife, and the much older Austin Dickinson, Amherst College treasurer and Emily's brother. Alice travels to Amherst, MA, to do research and is invited to stay with Nick Crocker, a married academic from England in his 50s. As Alice looks into Mabel and Austin's relationship, she begins an affair of her own with Nick, which they both know echoes the past. VERDICT Nicholson is an accomplished novelist (Motherland) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter in whose hands this meticulously researched and thought-provoking exploration of the nature of passionate love soars. Told in alternating chapters between the past and the present and using the poems of Emily Dickinson throughout, this work will appeal to literary readers and those familiar with Nicholson's earlier novels (some characters recur), but it is accessible to all and should be welcomed by book groups. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/14.]-Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Amherst 1 The screen is black. The sound of a pen nib scratching on paper, the sound amplified, echoing in the dark room. A soft light flickers, revealing ink tracking over paper. Follow the forming letters to read: I've none to tell me to but thee The area of light expands. A small maplewood desk, on which the paper lies. A hand holding the pen. My hand, my pen, my words. My gift of love, ungiven. Lay down the pen and cross the room. The light in the room grows. There's a window on the far side. Outside it's daylight. Now the window frames the view. A road, a hedge, a strip of land planted with trees and shrubs. A path runs between the trees to the neighboring house, the Evergreens. A middle-aged man is coming down the path, his head a little bowed. I know him well, I love him dearly. He is my brother. Moving faster now, across the bedroom, out onto the landing. To the right is a bright window, to the left, a flight of stairs. Down the stairs, the hem of a white dress brushing the banisters, to come to a stop in the hall. The door to the parlor is ajar. Pause before the almost closed door. Through the crack a thin slice of the room is visible within: a fire burning in the grate, a wing chair by the fire, the middle-aged man settling himself down with a sigh into the chair. I know that sigh. I know that he's unhappy. I know that he leaves his home and comes to my house because he finds no joy in his marriage. I am his refuge. Open the door, and enter. He raises his bowed head. He has a heavy lined face, a sweep of thick hair above a high forehead, bushy whiskers. He smiles. "Here I am again," he says. Sit down before him, not speaking, waiting for him to speak. After a little while he rises to his feet, paces up and down before the fire. He talks in fits and starts, as if to himself. "I've been remembering Mattie, Mattie Gilbert, Sue's sister. You liked her, I know. She was the quiet one. She was fond of me, I think. I wrote her a letter, after Sue and I became engaged, but she never answered. Now I wake in the night and think, What if I'd married Mattie?" He paces in silence for a few moments. Then he comes to a stop and stands before the fire, his eyes cast down. "I had such great hopes. And what have I left? I have nothing." Reach out a hand and touch his arm. "I call it very unkind of you, brother." He smiles at that. "Am I the unkind one?" "You think only of yourself. Remember, you're living for me too." "What am I to do?" "There's joy to be had in the world," I say. "You're to find us joy." Excerpted from Amherst by William Nicholson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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