“The consequences of the poet’s refusal to disseminate her work in a faithful and orderly fashion are still very much with us.” – p.629, My Wars Are Laid Away In Books, Alfred Habegger
Elusive, mysterious and reclusive, Emily Dickinson was perhaps one of the most introverted female poets in history. Born on December 10, 1830 in Massachusetts, Dickinson’s oddities soon made her an eccentric amongst the people in her village of Amherst.
Are you interested in learning more fascinating facts about the life of one of America’s most famous introverted poets? This article presents a compact, easy to read biography of the most useful, and interesting parts of her life.
14 Kooky, Creepy and Bizarre Things You Should Know About Emily Dickinson
I know what you’re thinking … most biographies are long-winded and boring, right? Well here are the best bits taken from Emily Dickinson’s life, made all pretty:
- As a child, Emily was described as being “perfectly well and contented” (Sewall, 1998). She also had an affinity for music, favouring the piano in particular.
- Since a young age, Emily was troubled by the “deepening menace of death” (Ford, 1966) after her good friend and cousin Sophia Holland grew ill and died from typhus.
- In her teens, Emily became religious. Like a typical introvert, she went to church only a few times before deciding to stay home and keep the Sabbath there instead (Johnson, 1960).
- In her youth, Emily studied botany, and during her lifetime assembled a collection of 424 pressed flowers in her leather-bound Herbarium book (Habegger, 2001). She also cultivated heavily scented exotic flowers in her house.
- In here adulthood (starting in the 1850’s), Emily’s strongest and most affectionate relationship was with a woman called Susan Gilbert. Emily sent her over 300 letters in her lifetime, more than any other of her correspondents. Susan was her “most beloved friend, influence, muse and advisor”. (Martin, 2002)
- Some analysts suggest that Emily’s friendship with her dearest friend Susan was bordering lesbian, with worshipful letters like the following being produced: “Oh Susie, I would nestle close to your warm heart, and never hear the wind blow, or the storm beat again … But what can I do towards you? – dearer you cannot be, for I love you so already, that it almost breaks my heart …” (Todd, 2011). So … what do you think?
- Most of Emily’s friendships were carried out by correspondence through letters.
- Emily began her life of reclusion in her adulthood, after her mother became bedridden with a number of different chronic illnesses. Emily took on the role of domestic duties, confining herself to her home to take care of her mother and the house, and “finding the life with her books and nature so congenial, continued to live it” (Habegger, 2001). By the 1860’s, Emily had withdrawn from society and social life almost completely. This was her most productive writing period, according to many experts.
- In the 1860’s Emily didn’t leave her house unless absolutely necessary. It was in this period that she began talking to her visitors through her door, rather than face to face. She was rarely seen, and when she was, she was always dressed in white.
- There’s a lot of speculation over why Emily Dickinson was so reclusive. Some people believed she was an agoraphobic, and others that she had epilepsy. Earlier in her life she was diagnosed by her physician as having a “nervous prostration” (McDermott, 2000). Perhaps it was simply social anxiety?
- Emily never married. However, it is said that later in the poet’s life she had developed a romantic relationship with a Judge called Otis Phillips Lord (a man 18 years older than her), who was a close friend of Emily’s father. In her manuscripts, it’s suggested that they even contemplated marriage (Berry, 1993).
- On June 16, 1874, Emily died of a stroke.
- After her death, her sister Lavinia Dickinson kept her sisters promise of burning all of her correspondence. Lavinia later found a locked chest full of hundreds of poems which were published later in 1955 but were divided close after Emily’s death in a family feud.
- In her lifetime, Emily wrote close to 1800 poems.
I hope this article was of some use to you. For more information on the intriguing life of Emily Dickinson, please see the resources I referenced below.