New England in the mid-19th century was a literary hothouse, overgrown with wild and exotic talents. That Emily Dickinson was among the most dazzling of these is not disputable, but to say that she was obscure in her own time would exaggerate her celebrity. A handful of her poems appeared in print while she was alive (she died in 1886, at 55), but she preferred private rituals of publication, carefully writing out her verses and sewing them into booklets.
Though she had no interest in fame, Dickinson was anything but an amateur scribbler, approaching her craft with unstinting discipline and tackling mighty themes of death, time and eternity. She remains a paradoxical writer: vividly present on the page but at the same time persistently elusive. The more familiar you are with her work, the stranger she becomes.
An admirer can be forgiven for approaching “A Quiet Passion,” Terence Davies’ new movie about Dickinson’s life, with trepidation. The literalness of film and the creaky conventions of the biopic threaten to dissolve that strangeness, to domesticate genius into likable quirkiness. But Davies, whose work often blends public history and private memory, possesses a poetic sensibility perfectly suited to his subject and a deep, idiosyncratic intuition about what might have made her tick.
To Dickinson — played in the long afternoon of her adult life by Cynthia Nixon — the enemy of poetry is obviousness. “A Quiet Passion” refuses the obvious at every turn. The romantically disappointed recluse of “The Belle of Amherst,” William Luce’s sturdy, sentimental play, has been replaced by a prickly, funny, freethinking intellectual, whose life is less a chronicle of withdrawal from the world than a series of explosive engagements with the universe. The passion is not so quiet, really. Dickinson muses and ponders, yes, but she also seethes, scolds, teases and bursts out laughing.
Solitude is part of Dickinson’s birthright — the taste for it links her to Henry David Thoreau, another odd duck plying the waters of Massachusetts — but so are social and familial ties. The first time we see young Emily (played by Emma Bell) she is about to be kicked out of Mount Holyoke College, branded a “no-hoper” for her heterodox religious views. The description is wrong, of course. Her skepticism about God was more personal than metaphysical. She didn’t doubt his existence so much as question his intentions.
U.S. Middle Class Shrank in 20 Years, Study Finds美國中產階級 20年來漸萎縮
文/Nelson D. Schwartz
Mike McCabe’s neighbors in rural Gillespie, Illinois, consider him lucky. After being out of work for a year, he landed a job in January making cardboard boxes at a nearby Georgia-Pacific plant for $19.60 an hour.
He would agree with them, were it not for the fact that his previous job in a steel mill near St. Louis paid $28 an hour. “I’ve had to rethink my whole life to make ends meet on what I’m now making,” McCabe said. “The middle class is struggling for sure, and almost anybody in my position will tell you that.”
Middle-class Americans have fared worse in many ways than their counterparts in economically advanced countries in Western Europe in recent decades, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center.
What is more, as McCabe’s experience suggests, the authors of the Pew study found a broader contraction of the American middle class, even as the ranks of the poor and the rich have grown.
“Compared with the Western European experience, the adult population in the U.S. is more economically divided,” said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at Pew. “It is more hollowed out in the middle. This speaks to the higher level of income inequality in the United States.”
For example, between 1991 and 2010, the proportion of adults in middle-income households fell to 59 percent from 62 percent, while it rose to 67 percent from 61 percent over the same period in Britain and to 74 percent from 72 percent in France.
Households that earned from two-thirds to double the national median income were defined as middle income in the Pew study; in the United States that translated into annual income of $35,294 to $105,881, after taxes, in 2010.
A shrinking middle class is not necessarily cause for alarm, if the reason for the contraction is that more people are moving up the income ladder, said David Autor, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The proportion at the top did rise, but so did the proportion at the bottom, rising to 26 percent from 25 percent. That is much more worrisome, said Autor, who was not involved with the Pew study.
Moreover, the middle-income group was smaller — and the groups at either extreme larger — in the United States than in any of the 11 Western European countries studied.
And incomes in the middle rose faster in Europe than they did in the United States, according to Pew. Median incomes in the middle tier grew by 9 percent in the United States between 1991 and 2010, compared with a 25 percent gain in Denmark and a 35 percent increase in Britain.