The most amazing thing about their relationship is not so much the wealth of treasured poetry which Dickinson bestowed upon Higginson alone, but the length of their friendship. Dickinson was known for ending her relationships with an apocryphal, fatalistic thrust.
Though Thomas Wentworth Higginson's name is more familiar to those who study the Civil War, abolition, religion and history, it should also be included when mentioning the poetry of Emily Dickinson. At her insistence, Thomas Wentworth Higginson made a promise that he would not release her poetry until after her death. He would be, in her words, her "Preceptor."
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple is the biography of these two historic, literary figures as well as the relationship that developed over their nearly 25 year correspondence. They would meet only for brief encounters, which seemed to torment Emily Dickinson; she desired his attention, as well as Higginson; he desired her companionship. Yet they shared a commitment that would prove unwavering during their lifetimes.
They shared a love specific to those who share a journey, and only through written word. That love, built upon mutual respect and literary admiration, is what Brenda Wineapple has captured in this stellar historical novel; she has moved their relationship out of the realm of corporeal love stories and into a world, ravaged by Civil War and restricted by decorum, where the connection between two people needn't have been evidenced physically in order to bear the highest significance.
Brenda Wineapple has done a superb job of capturing the personalities of these two historic figures, of sifting through Emily Dickinson lore and poetry to get at the heart of this amazing writer and her relationship with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the only person she ever trusted entirely to keep her words, and in just the way she asked. In Thomas Wentworth Higginson she found a stoic friend, one of few who seemed to truly appreciate her as both belletrist and companion.
She trusted that after her death Higginson would protect her words, but her family would eventually win in their struggle to gain control, forcing Higginson to share editing credits with her brother's mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd.