This is a book for philistines. I mean that in a good way. Marianne Moore once accused readers with an indecorous interest in Emily Dickinson’s biography as indulging in a “philistine interest” (150). Modern-day philistines, reflecting their biblical namesakes (Joshua 13:3, 1 Samuel 6:17), are those who are anti-intellectual, uncultivated, uneducated, or materialist (to cite some of the many near synonyms). But, in a move typical of her, Vivian R. Pollak immediately observes, “Moore herself, for all her highbrow enthusiasms, was also a philistine, in that she was genuinely interested in writers’ lives” (150). Moore, who read biographies of Dickinson, once confessed, “My favorite reading is almost any form of biography” (150). Biography was her guilty pleasure; disdaining gossip, she nevertheless wanted to hear it.

In her acerbic account of Moore’s ambivalent attraction to biography as equal in interest to poetry, or...

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