Mr. Emerson's Wife
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Mr. Emerson's Wife

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  358 ratings  ·  72 reviews
In this novel about Ralph Waldo Emerson's wife, Lidian, Amy Belding Brown examines the emotional landscape of love and marriage. Living in the shadow of one of the most famous men of her time, Lidian becomes deeply disappointed by marriage, but consigned to public silence by social conventions and concern for her family's reputation. Drawn to the erotic energy and intellec
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 1st 2005 by St. Martin's Press
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Jun 30, 2008 Shannon rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shannon by: Lisa
Waldo's always irritated me, but this book seriously made me hate him more, while mitigating my dislike of Thoreau. A great book about an interesting woman, plus it features Scarlet fever, which is one of my favorite diseases. A must read for anyone who's ever wished they could go back in time and give Ralph Waldo Emerson a throat-punch.
I have not, in recent history, read anything so profoundly disturbing. If it weren't the March selection for the book discussion group I've been attending I would have put it down before I was half done.

I only had a layman's knowledge of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists before starting this book. After reading it, I have no desire to read anything of Emerson's -- or about Emerson -- ever again. I realize that everyone is a product of their time -- no matter how enlightened they thi...more
Arapahoe Library District
This is a beautiful debut novel featuring the portrait of a marriage between an independent, fascinating woman and one of America's greatest philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's an extraordinary read in which the author brings the 19th century to life, and takes an imaginative leap combining fiction with factual history.

Once married, the intelligent and passionate Mrs. Emerson discovers her husband's secret obsession. After years of hurt and loneliness she moves beyond duty and ultimately suc...more
The writing in this book is exquisite.
Susan Bailey
Reading the last few words, I slowly closed Mr. Emerson’s Wife and felt a welling up inside of emotion. I was so tied to the character of Lidian Jackson Emerson that I felt they were her emotions too.

This is how Amy Belding Brown’s book hit me. I lived inside of Mr. Emerson’s Wife for the last couple of weeks, crawling inside the head, the skin and the heart of Lidian Jackson Emerson. I loved Mr. Emerson as she loved him, felt the bitter disappointment and anger of promises not kept, and swooned...more
I was drawn into the story of Lydia (Lidian) Jackson from the very first few pages. It's rare that a book grips me so tightly, so I dove head-first into this novel and relished every second. It took me roughly two and a half days to get through this book, and only because I had a family to take care of in between reading sessions.

Lydia (renamed Lidian by her husband, Ralph Waldo Emerson) is a strong woman with strong convictions. Still unmarried in her early 30s, she has no interest in shacklin...more
Lisa Hayes
My only question about Amy Belding Brown's Mr. Emerson's Wife is WHY did I leave it on my to read list so long! This was superb! It's one of those book I wish I had written--it's that "real" and that moving. These are not cardboard cutouts of famous men and women. These are REAL people and they come alive on Ms. Brown's pages. The passion, grief, longing, heartache, joy, lust, ennui, fickleness, commitment and endurance of a deeply-felt marriage is all right here in one book. These are not mere...more
Anatomy of a Marriage

This was my book club's most recent selection. We read March by Geraldine Brooks last year and I thought this would be an interesting and related choice.

I don't think the cover is indicative of the story the book holds. And I don't agree with the quote from Susan Cheever on the cover, "A soaring imaginative leap, this book combines detailed history with a page-turning illicit love story." Don't be fooled, this is not a romance novel and it doesn't 'burn with passion'.

I hav...more
This book caught my eye because I teach Mr. Emerson every year in my American Lit class and so I thought I would enjoy a novel about his wife. (I always like to get the female perspective too!). We'll see how it goes--the first few chapters seem good!

Ok, now I'm finished. I liked many things about this book--the references to women of the time period and Transcendentalism. Emerson's failings as a husband are pretty awful--I cannot imagine being married to a man still in love with his dead first...more
Annie Falcke
I found this book profoundly sad. I read it over two days and it was one of those books I had to keep reading 'to get it over with'. I didn't want to live in its headspace for longer than absolutely necessary.

There was so much death, despair, and self-pity. I found the protagonist self righteous to start with, and then increasingly inconsistent and flimsy... Her portrait was painted as a 'sinner and a saint' without really sketching the grey area in between the two where the reality probably la...more
Donna Kirk
Apendix to original review:

This book is incredible. My friend Michele bought me a copy for my birthday. it's about ralph waldo emerson's wife. she is an amazing woman and her reticence to becoming a wife is heartfelt. her instinct to remian a strong self reliant female was over ridden by her deep love of emerson's lectures she witnessed in plymouth during cold winter nights. He proposed to her immediately after a few weeks having met her because of her strong mind and sensibilities. This book i...more
Written by an educator at Orchard House (Alcott's home), I was instantly intrigued--after all, I'm a musuem educator! I'm always cautious of books that take very famous people and imagine the rest of the story. Occasionally, I am horrified (though I rarely stop reading--it's that whole accident on a freeway syndrome). However, this book was fabulous. A wonderful psychological study of a woman who marries late in life to a genius--and finds that marriage to Emerson is not at all what she or he ex...more
JoAnne Pulcino
This is a beautiful debut novel featuring the portrait of a marriage between an independent, fascinating woman and one of America's greatest philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's an extraordinary read in which the author brings the 19th century to life, and takes an imaginative leap combining fiction with factual history. Once married, the intelligent and passionate Mrs. Emerson discovers her husband's secret obsession. After years of hurt and loneliness she moves beyond duty and ultimately s...more
Jill Manske
This was an interesting and informative book. I had no idea that forward-thinking people in the mid-1800's were discussing women's rights and equality between the genders. It was also an eye opener to realize how common it was for children and adults to die of illnesses that would be treated with antibiotics in a doctor's office today. The author made the characters very real and believable. But it's still historical fiction, emphasis on fiction. The author admits that she didn't have a lot of f...more
Nancy Kent
An intriguing look into the life of Lydia Jackson Emerson, second wife of the great philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mr. Emerson (which is the way even his wife often referred to him) was rather cool and distant to her and even decided her name was too plain, so he decided to call her Lidian. I particularly enjoyed the special relationship Mrs. Emerson had with Henry David Thoreau, her husband's colleague.
This is a very intelligently written story of a marriage, with its many tribulations. The...more
I'm a big fan of historical novels written in the first person, so really enjoyed this book written from the perspective of Lydia/Lidian, the second wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Having just read "American Bloomsbury" by Susan Cheever, I felt I had some background knowledge of the cast of characters who appear in this book. The writing itself is graceful and a lot of it feels "true" to what is known about the people, though of course some of the events and conversatins may or may not be true sinc...more
This is meant to be a piece of 19th-century lifestyle porn, but it incidentally gets across a couple of disturbing points very clearly. First, being a woman at any time before the end of the 20th century pretty much sucked, all nostalgia to the contrary. Second, and much more interesting, the 19th century marks the confluence of the masochism of American Protestantism with the psychological development of the modern Western individual. In other words, the Victorians are the generation that devel...more
I kept thinking that Mr. Emerson’s wife, Lydia or Lidian, held herself back. She tended to the household duties much too readily. I truly did not understand her motivations for what she did (not following her own intellectual pursuits) and how she would pick fights with her husband, and not really attempting a rational talk with him at any point. I know I'm a "modern" women now speaking about an era past, but she was a strong woman. The book kept close to facts as I know, but of course this was...more
Kate Lawrence
My interest in Lidian Emerson arose mostly from being a lifelong fan of Walden, and wondering about the relationship between Lidian and Thoreau. I deeply enjoyed the author's take on this close friendship, plus Lidian's relationship with her husband, all of which came across as quite plausible. I'm glad to see a spotlight shining here on Lidian, who seemed stuck in the background, had to put up with a lot, and never received the recognition she deserved for her considerable intellectual gifts. B...more
Terrie Purkey
Written from the viewpoint of Ralph Waldo Emerson's wife, this book is a well written slice of life of the era of the mid to late 1800's. Although a novel, it seems to be very well researched from the little fact checking that I did and feels very authentic. "The book combines detailed history with a page turning illicit love story."

It's not a genre I generally choose so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the writing style, the flow of words which felt true to the era but easier t...more
I read this book mainly because of my interest in the writings of Thoreau and Emerson. It was quite intriguing to see them come to life in this fictional way. Brown was careful to frame the entire story around factual events such as the forest fire Thoreau caused and the many visitations to Bush by important thinkers. It is very well written. My only problem is the affair Lidian had with Henry in this novel. Most of us in the Thoreau Society believe strongly that Henry's relationship with her wa...more
I loved this book. The story moved at a nice pace and I felt I was indeed spending time in Concord in the 1840s. I'd like to read a biography of Lidian although it's probably not as entertaining as this fantasy about the relationship between her and Thoreau.

Lidian was a remarkable woman for her time, she married later in life, never really intending to marry at all. Emerson unfortunately could never let go of his obsession with his first wife who died of tuberculosis eighteen months after they...more
Little is known about Lidian Jackson Emerson except that she was the wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson and may have had an affair with Henry David Thoreau, so the author made her story up. It is very well written with a flowing meandering style that is fitting of the time it portrays. Lots of quotes from famous people of day. It is the story of a woman and a marriage in a particular time and place but since it deals with issues such as unfulfilled expectations, personal loss, and infidelities both rea...more
This book surprised me - in a good way. I had no idea what to expect when my book club assigned this one to read. I didn't think I was going to like the book. But I loved it, couldn't put it down.

It's a historical romance, based on the real-life diaries of Lillian Emerson. She was the wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson & mother of his children. It chronicles their life together and mentions many top writers with ties to Emerson. Apparently, Lillian also had an affair with Henry David Thoreau, who r...more
Enjoyed this book. The author explores the mind of Lidian Emerson, who was the second wife of philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo. Her thoughts, ideals and realities are expressed with startling clarity and well-written prose. I enjoyed finding out more about intelligentsia of Concord through her eyes. So interesting to discover that marriage to an esteemed historical figure wasn't all that it was cracked up to be (just like in modern times!). Fascinating glimpse into domestic life of the pre-c...more
Northshire Bookstore
If you find yourself yearning for the days when you first read the great 19th century authors, you will want to immerse yourself in this story. I suppose if there are women out there who are still looking for their soul mate, they will be able to take heart in the poignant and expertly rendered tale of Lydian Jackson Emerson and the great intellectual and emotional fever that infected both men and women of the time. Absolutely stunning historical fiction. -- Karen F.
Paula Cappa
I love this book so much that I read it once a year. Lydia Emerson's life, her marriage to Ralph Waldo Emerson, her perspectives on work and women in the 19th century are more than just fascinating. Brown really brings you to Concord with these characters. I look forward to reading more of Brown's work but, honestly, reading this book every year is like living in Concord at the height of its literary achievements. Few novels bring me to tears. This one did.
What a great read - I had only seen a few brief references to Emerson's wife Lidian in other books, and I thought, who would marry a man who asks her to change her first name? I'm so glad someone decided to write a book from her point of view - of course it is fiction, but the story is woven around actual events, which are interesting in themselves. My only complaint is the book kind of fizzles at the end, but the first 3/4 more than makes up for that!
Sharon E.
Concord being the next town over, I saw this clearly and loved reading about our past. Surprisingly the characters, the women in particular, struggled with more of what I would consider modern conflicts of roles and responsibilities and emotionally distant spouses. Are we so unchanged in our beliefs or is this a modern twist in an old fashioned setting. Only after visiting the actual Emerson house did I think this more fantasy than fact.
I think Mrs. Brown did a wonderful thing, picking Mr. Emerson's wife as a subject for her novel. I love to read stories of women married to important men that often live in the shadow of this men. This book did not disappoint, it was well written, beautifully crafted and clever in the way she imagined the heroine's motives and feelings... I would reccommed this book to people who like poetry and historical based romantic novels.
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Amy Belding Brown, a graduate of Bates College, received her Master of Fine Arts degree in January 2002, from Vermont College of Norwich University, where she worked closely with Bret Lott and Victoria Redel. After living and working in central Massachusetts for nearly twenty years, she returned to her native Vermont in 2011, where she continues to write poetry and fiction. She is the author of Fl...more
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