March 3, 2015
By Rachel Rogol
Even if you’ve never heard his name, chances are you’re familiar with William Nicholson’s work. An award-winning screenwriter whose film credits include Shadowlands, Gladiator, Elizabeth: the Golden Age and Les Misérables, among others, Nicholson is also an acclaimed author who writes both for adults and younger readers.
His most recent project is Amherst, a historical novel that intersperses a fictional modern-day love story with the historically accurate love affair between Austin Dickinson (brother of Emily Dickinson and Amherst College Treasurer from 1873 until his death in 1895) and his mistress Mabel Loomis Todd (wife of David Todd, Class of 1875, who served the college as Instructor in Astronomy and Director of the Observatory). Both the Dickinson and Todd families were intimately involved in the life of Amherst College from its very beginning.
Nicholson's new novel recreates Austin and Mabel's scandalous affair from numerous letters between the two and cites snippets of Emily Dickinson's poems throughout. "It's in some ways my love letter to the poet Emily Dickinson, who I first encountered over forty years ago," Nicholson wrote on his blog. "Her poems shock and thrill me as much today as they did then."