I read this story (IIRC novelette length rather than "short story") about 10 or so years ago, probably in a collection.

It is a hilarious spoof of an academic article. This "article" is about an American poetess of the XIX° century. I remember that at that time I did check that the poetess has really existed, but I forgot who she was. On Wikipedia there are 63 pages under "American poetesses of the XIX° century" and I gave up checking each and everyone one's biography. Besides though she did exist, her real biography might differ from what I remember of the story.

The paper is written as an academic paper with lots of notes. IIRC, the notes represent about one third of the total length of the "paper". The author claims that the invasion by Martians described by H. G. Wells actually took place, but that Wells was wrong about the reason (terran microbes) of its failure. According to the author, a Martian projectile had hit the ground near the cemetery where the poetess had been buried. The shock wave both exhumed her and "woke her up". This is all the more ridiculous as the paper does mention the (correct, I did check it when I read the book) year of the poetess's death and that was decades before the year that Wells has claimed as that of the "invasion". Thus awaken, the poetess then started to write poems (which, at the time, I also did check as really written by her) while lying in her reopened grave. The author claims she had always pencil and paper on her, and was buried with them.

The author of the academic paper rejects the generally accepted year when those poems where written, namely, of course before the poetess's death, and gives totally ridiculous readings, usually of isolated sentences, to make them refer to the "invasion by Martians", and therefore, posthumous, or rather, post-exhumation. Moreover, these readings are interpreted as threatening the Martians to frighten them away. Or maybe, so boring as to convince them to flee from a planet where poetry was so bad and thus hurting their delicate sensitivity. Or, IIRC, both. The seriousness with which all this utter nonsense is constructed on excerpts of poems actually written by her is a masterpiece of humour.

  • You wrote "...and that was decades before the year that Wells has claimed as that of the "invasion"." What date you think that Wells gave for the Martian Invasion? As far as I know this question scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/285910/… And my answer have the only clues ot the date of the Martian landings. Please inform us of any other information you might have. Commented May 11 at 6:16
  • @M.A.Golding Indeed, when I first read the book, I remember I was not able to find an exact year for the date of Wells'" invasion". But there were enough hints to put in between 1890 and a very early XX° Century. But I remember it was "decades", I did not find exactly how many. In fact, I suppose that the year of her death, I must have misread the year of her death, and remembered 1868 instead of 1886. Death in 1868 was certainly "decades" before any reasonable date for Wells' "invasion". I'm sure that at that time, I did not compute it from 1886. Honest mistake, years ago...
    – Alfred
    Commented May 11 at 20:57

1 Answer 1


The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective by Connie Willis.

A classic "Connie Willis having fun" story!

The scene where the shell lands on her grave is:

Wells describes the impact of the shell[18] as producing “a blinding glare of vivid green light” followed by “such a concussion as I have never heard before or since.” He reports that the surrounding dirt “splashed,” creating a deep pit and exposing drainpipes and house foundations. Such an impact in West Cemetery would have uprooted the surrounding coffins and broken them open, and the resultant light and noise clearly would have been enough to “wake the dead,” including the slumbering Dickinson.

That she was thus awakened, and that she considered the event an invasion of her privacy, is made clear in the longer poem, Number 186B, of which the first stanza reads: “I scarce was settled in the grave—When came—unwelcome guests—Who pounded on my coffin lid—Intruders—in the dust—” [19].

I've left in the footnote numbers from the quote. The text is peppered with them - forty references in all - just like an academic paper.

As someone who had to study the Lake poets at school I particularly like her paragraph:

The Martians’ identity as poets is corroborated by the fact that they landed seven shells in Great Britain, three in the Lake District,[25] and none at all in Liverpool. It may have determined their decision to land in Amherst.

  • That was fast !! Congratulations. I laughed so much when I first read it !
    – Alfred
    Commented May 10 at 8:18
  • 2
    I've read a lot of Connie Willis's work, though I understood only a small fraction of it :-) Commented May 10 at 8:19
  • 1
    You win this time @JohnRennie ;) Commented May 10 at 8:31

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