Emily Dickinson got some and liked it

Pax Arcana

If you’re like me, you know that famous dead poet Emily Dickinson was a shut-in who lived a cloistered life in the attic of her father’s mansion, penning sad sack verses about a life she was too sheltered to lead.

Turns out we were both wrong. I blame it on you.

In reality, Emily Dickinson was hornier than a Rays fan at a livestock auction, according to this article in Slate:

For example, when Mabel Loomis Todd, the vivacious and talented wife of Amherst College astronomer David Todd, was invited to play the piano for Dickinson and her younger sister, Lavinia, in September of 1882, she received a startling warning from their sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, next door. The Dickinson spinster sisters, Sue informed her, “have not, either of them, any idea of morality.” Sue added darkly, “I went in there one day, and in the drawing room I found Emily reclining in the arms of a man.”


OK, so even by Victorian-era standards, “reclining in the arms of a man” was pretty tame. But the point is that Dickinson apparently led a very normal — which is to say disappointing — love life. In fact she was almost married a few different times. Her first love, according to some new research on the subject, was a student named George Gould. One primary source from the time suggests that Gould and Dickinson were engaged, but that her father disapproved because Gould was too poor.

Nevertheless, even scholars seem to prefer the idea of Emily Dickinson as some sort of sexually repressed recluse:

Once again, it was the popular image of shade-seeking Dickinson holed up in her father’s house that prevailed. As Andrews argues, there was a concerted effort to suppress Taggard’s findings, led by Susan Dickinson’s daughter, Martha, and Amherst College professor and biographer George F. Whicher, who announced that he intended “to terminate the persistent search for Emily’s unknown love.” Whicher attacked Taggard’s book as “untrustworthy” and suggested that its plotline was derived from the “stale formula of Hollywood romance and Greenwich Village psychology”—a sly dig at Taggard’s bohemian and socialist convictions.

Personally, I don’t find it hard to believe that the poet was more normal than originally thought. That’s why she signed so many of her poems “Emily Dickinson (that’s what she said).”

Emily Dickinson’s Secret Lover! [Slate]


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