When I started thinking about this series for February, I thought how ironic it was that I chose February, Valentine’s Day month, for stories about writers that were alone, mostly unloved and to some degree, liked it that way. It is also ironic that I find myself a bit of a recluse as well, and more so at this time because last night I had an accident, tripping over an extension cord and spraining my knee. Nothing like an injury to make a homebody out of anyone.
Today’s recluse is a famous one: Emily Dickinson. Emily was born on December 10th, 1830 in Amhearst, Massachusetts. She had the advantage of being raised in a relatively wealthy home, where she was never forced to work or marry, because her father was a very well respected political figure and her brother was a lawyer. She also had a sister, who was also a solitary figure. Part of the reason for Emily’s self imposed seclusion stemmed from the fact that for some thirty years she was the primary caretaker for her invalid mother.
Her grandfather founded Amhearst College where she attended school but at the time it was Amhearst Academy. She was a good student but suffered from frequent anxiety and depression. She went on to a year of college but dropped out due to mental instability. There is much controversy as to Emily’s love life; some say she had unrequited love for Otis Plord, who served on the Supreme Court or Samuel Bowles, who was an Editor, but it is just as likely that there was never any special person in her life, only imaginary lovers.
She read voraciously and wrote letters to people, but most who were the lucky recipients of these letters found them hard to understand or to reply to. She spent almost all of her time with her family, rushing upstairs whenever company called.
She wrote 40 hand bound volumes of poetry–1800 poems in all. She folded and sewed the volumes together herself, writing on stationary. She died way too young at 56 from kidney disease. Her one adventure in life was to go to Boston for a few months to treat an eye ailment she had.
Her poems are beautiful, lyrical and unrivaled today. They are full of pauses and dashes that confounded those that read them in her day. This is one of the reasons she was so undervalued in her day. Her poems were unlike the poetry of the day because they were wild and free, not full of corny mush. She spoke through closed doors and baskets descending from her window, not even visible for her father’s funeral, instead hearing it from her open bedroom door. Yet, her poems speak louder than she ever could. They reach out and touch every heart and mind that reads them. In this way, we know Emily Dickinson far more than anyone ever did while she sojourned on this planet.