Capital murder? Yes. In two senses.
I refer to the notorious forgery of an Emily Dickinson poem fabricated by the homicidal fraudster and Mormon iconoclast, Mark Hofmann, whose inspired fakery – conceived to dupe academia – first surfaced in a catalogue of Fine Books and Manuscripts mailed to collectors by a major international auction house in 1997. Reportedly, the manuscript was sold for $21,000.
Left: Emily’s true pencilled script. (Circa her final decade.)
Right: Mark Hofmann’s forgery with line-breaks defined by
width of Emily Dickinson’s folded, lined, fascicle-style paper.
(Facing page, a graphologist belatedly denounces Forgery.)
We do not know His motives nor
Comprehend his Deeds –
Then why should I seek solace in
What I cannot know?
Better to play in winter’s sun
Than to fear the Snow.
Surely – everyone agrees – a defining characteristic of Dickinson’s verse is the metonymic capitalisation of her motifs . . . they are the signature feature of her rhetorical devices.
So . . . hang on!
Blooper 1: Where’s the capitalised ‘H’ for His deeds? ‘Reverential capitalisation’ is a scriptural convention no devout 19th Century versifier would be without.
Blooper 2: As to the familiar capitalised Dickinsonian metonyms, where is the consistency that would balance the figuration of Life and Death as Sun and Snow?
I suspect that Emily lived through a period of reappraisal as to personified nouns. I have always considered it curious that the four seasons in our language remain uncapitalised. Surely spring, when personified, takes a capital? And is feminine? (Emily sees Grass as Nature deserving of a feminine possessive determiner and pronoun . . . the Wind is a capitalised male, a metonym for God: The Wind does not require the Grass / To answer—Wherefore when He pass / She cannot keep Her place.)
A criminal act of poetic personation.With hindsight, it’s glib to claim special insights into this shabby affair of literary forgery BUT I do profoundly believe greater vigilance could have been observed on the purely textual details I’ve identified.
Yes, the forger’s writing-paper was manufactured in Boston most probably in 1871, when Emily was in her forties.
Yes, Emily often wrote in pencil (and, fortunately for forgers, pencil lead cannot be forensically dated).
Yes, the forger’s script replicated the hand of a poetess no longer cursive in her febrile latter years whose decline saw each character printed separately like that of a child. Nevertheless, there is a crudity in the hesitant execution that betrays the faker’s ineptitude. (As an apparent holograph – especially the stumbled signing of her given name – the whole thing seems insincere.)
Em Dash. Separatrices where she drew breath.
Here is an extract from the fictional Theresa Ollivante’s fictional novel, An Auroral Stain. . .
An Auroral Stain was conceived as a postbellum detective story and built on the fictitious premise of a private investigation by a housebound Emily Dickinson intent to solve the mystery of a serving-woman’s suspicious death, ably assisted by Maggie, her faithful Irish maid; my central conceit has the young colleen and her phobic mistress sleuthing as a sort of composite Massachusite Nancy Drew.
In those early months, I wrote most of the core passages of An Auroral Stain.
Was it the muffled chiming of the bells from those Irishtown churches on each street corner or the sheer drudgery of my austere day-to-day routines that I found conducive to the mapping of the febrile psyche of the Belle of Amherst and the quaint notions of her resourceful Irish maid?
Sometimes I would hear the faint strains of a fiddle diddlydeeing and it was as if the once-hidden roots of a deep-set tree were exposed raw above ground.
Anyhow, the brogue of those Irishtown denizens must have still been ringing in my ears when I wrote:
“A sneeze as long as Nebuchadnezzar!” Maggie scolded as she took her mistress’s wet cape and hat. The maid had been kneeling on the homestead veranda, whitewashing a garden bench in a curious atavistic ritual, as if to welcome a long-lost relation to a hooley. She took Emily by the elbow and led her, half-fainting, to her room. That night she attended her mistress in her delirium, hearing her call out strange imprecations: “Refuse the mediciners, damn you! Why are our people backslidden!” So wild and convulsed was her expression she was raving a jeremiad. “There is no medicine against death!” she gasped. “Take heed, girl, of the promise of a man, for it will run like a crab!” “By the cross,” Maggie exclaimed, “there is fey blood i’ ye’re head! The poor darlin’s brain’s on fire and full of proclamations!”
In my notes to my novel I encoded “Emily” as “Em Dash,” both on account of her mercurial nature and of her all-pervasive typographical separatrices that signal the places where you should catch your breath before resuming her spare end-stopped verses.
Hanged by a comma.
. . .