Poetry News

Lynne Feeley on After Emily

By Harriet Staff
Julie Dobrow, After Emily, cover

At Los Angeles Review of Books, read Lynne Feeley's consideration of Julie Dobrow's After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet. In the introduction to her article, Feeley provides detailed insight into Mabel Loomis Todd's identity: "It's 1907, and Mabel Loomis Todd is looking at Mars. An author, adventurer, and astronomical enthusiast, Todd has traveled from Amherst, Massachusetts, to Iquique, Chile, on an expedition to photograph the 'canals' of the red planet." From there: 

Astronomers have introduced the word “canals” to describe its surface cuts and striations, but the word has caused no small amount of confusion among members of the public, who take it to mean that scientists have discovered water, perhaps even life, on Mars. In her essay “Science,” published in The Nation upon the team’s return from Chile, Todd cleared up the confusion and offered an explanation for why Mars has such a hold on the public imagination: so much of it is visible to the naked eye. Indeed, the new “mechanical means of observation” can often distort the view because they magnify terrestrial things — the “tremulous air” — that you don’t care to see. Not only is the naked view often much clearer, but also when it comes to Mars, the human eye is able to train itself to become a more perfect instrument. The more you look, the better you become at looking. “Even the casual observer, the interested spectator, is able to discover much more at his second, third, or later view than at the beginning,” Todd wrote.

Todd had spent decades training her eye on celestial things. She’d been chasing solar eclipses since the 1880s. She traveled to Japan first in 1887 and then again in 1896, when she became the first American woman to summit Mount Fuji. She went to Libya in 1900, Indonesia in 1901, then back to Libya in 1905. She was in Russia when the war broke out in 1914 and made a perilous escape across Europe. For all this effort, not once did Todd manage to see a solar eclipse, thwarted after months of painstaking travel by cloudy skies. Yet these travels nonetheless became the basis of a series of travelogues Todd published in some of the nation’s most widely read outlets, including Harper’sThe NationThe New York Evening PostHome Magazine, and Century Magazine, and they established her reputation as a writer.

Read more at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Originally Published: December 14th, 2018