The Emily Dickinson Museum

During my vacation back in the good ol’ USA, on May 10th, as a one day late Mother’s Day gift, I treated my sister by having her drive me to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

Located at 280 Main Street, the museum includes tours of both Emily’s house (The Homestead)

and her brother, Austin’s house (The Evergreens).

My sister acted quite delighted to go even though the only thing she knew of Dickinson was that, “she was a hermit who wrote strange poetry.”  Of course,  this might also have been her way of apologising for her demonic cat attacking me the night before.  I kid not.  Warning: if that cat purrs at you it is not a sign that it is a loving, warm animal who wishes for you to pet it.  It is a sign that it is about to leap into the air cartoon-style and  claw at your face if you don’t jump out of its way in the nick of time.

But I digress.

Our tour group (led by a vey lovely and informative woman) began inside the Homestead.   Emily’s grandfather built the Federal style home circa 1813.

After being shown Emily’s portrait, we were told that Emily’s family and Emily, herself, hated it because it didn’t resemble her at all.  Evidently, the artist had dressed her in a style similar to that of her mother, so that the two portraits could appear almost twin-like. 

Instead of the studious pose this picture suggests, Emily preferred wearing her hair loose and free.

Later in life, Emily preferred wearing all-white.  It is unknown whether this was due to spiritual convictions or if she had been influenced by one of her favorite novels, The Woman in White.   In the upstairs hallway, her white daydress is showcased behind glass.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the museum.   The simple, elegant dress indicates that she stood about 5’4 or under, and was extremely slender.

Inside Emily’s bedroom is a 17 inch writing desk at which Emily penned her thousands of poems.  Our tour guide informed us that these tiny desks were designed so the writer wouldn’t have space to put things on it, and thus be distracted by them.   (yes, I did make a mental note to myself at that point)

Emily’s austere bedroom:

 (thanks to pbs. org)

On the walls, hang pictures of two of Emily’s favorite writers:  Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.  Our guide asked us if we could identify the two ladies.  She was surprised when I immediately recognized Mrs. Browning, as evidently most don’t.  I would have assumed Eliot would be more difficult.  (another woman in our group guessed her correctly)

After reading some of Emily’s poems, we walked along the path to The Evergeens.   Emily’s father built the Italianite style house for her brother Austin and his wife, Susan Gilbert.

The socially-inclined Susan Gilbert, entertained such notable figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Webster, and Thoreau.  Some speculate that these parties may have been part of the reason that the already private Emily withdrew herself completely from society.

After Emily’s death in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, brought a bunch of Emily’s poems to Mabel Loomis Todd and asked her help in getting them published.   Mrs. Todd (who had been conducting a quiet, yet very well-known love-affair with Austin) had never met Emily in person.  Instead, they had corresponded for a few years through letters.   Mabel spent several years organizing and editing Emily’s poems.  The resulting volumes were published in 1890, 1891, and 1896.

Mrs. Todd went on tours in which she played up Emily’s mystical, secluded nature and eventually sealed her reputation as the mysterious poet from Amherst.

In Emily’s own words:

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Welcome back! Sounds like you had a great trip (other than the demon cat)!

    Squee! I love Emily Dickinson.

    Heart! We will forget him!
    You and I — tonight!
    You may forget the warmth he gave —
    I will forget the light!

  2. How lovely to have visited there! It’s always such a stark contrast seeing how people lived in the 19th century (and earlier). Our homes and lives are so cluttered with stuff these days, and we constantly seek for more. Your comment about her tiny, uncluttered desk makes me want to go on the warpath in my house, and do some serious de-junking.

    Except for the books. 😉

  3. O-M-G I am green with envy!

    Her house is on my list of places to visit during my lifetime, neck and neck with the Anne Frank House Museum.

    Wow. Just a a huge WOW, you crazy-lucky thing, you!

    Em

  4. Hey Marguerite!

    Emily definitely can weave a spell over you. Thanks for posting that poem of hers. 🙂

  5. Hiya DD,

    An interesting part of the tour was contrasting the decorative style of the Homestead versus the Evergreens. The former was much more simple and refined. While the Evergreens resemembled the more typical midcentury/late Victorian decor: dark colors, heavy fabrics and furniture.

  6. Em!!

    Oh, you should definitely go. In fact, the whole area of Amherst and Northampton is so lovely.

  7. “a hermit who wrote strange poetry.” is that suppose to be a bad thing??? I’m sure it would of been real exciting. 🙂 I’m jealous, I don’t have anything like this in Australia

  8. Sheesh, I’ve lived in NE most of my life, and I had no idea that museum was there.

    I see a trip to MA in my future. 🙂

  9. Heya Chazz,

    No, it’s definitely not a bad thing. And my sis didn’t mean it that way, either. 🙂

    New England is filled with literary landmarks. My favorite house is The House of Seven Gables (of which Hawthorne based and named his novel) in Salem.

    Do you have any favorite Australian literary figures? Maybe you could google them and see what sorts of museums/tributes might be found there.

  10. Hey Amy!

    My sis had lived there for years (and only about a ten minute drive away!) and she hadn’t bothered going until I mentioned it to her. And she knew about it. At least you have an excuse. 😉

  11. there are a few well known bush poets but I never enjoyed their poetry. Most of Australia’s well known literary writers are still alive and I don’t think they would want people invading their home 😛

  12. hee hee 🙂

  13. If they make a movie about her life (Emily Dickinson) then she should be played by Emily Blunt, not only do they share a first name, but the similarities, face and posture wise are uncanny.

    Glad you had a good time.

  14. Love that poem from a while back, and love the one Marguerite posted too 🙂 She was masterful 🙂

    I love your author posts!!! 🙂

    Btw, just picked up Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and OMG, she was good. And I got so entranced by the endnotes that I just ordered her biography too 🙂

    Sounds like an awesome excursion 🙂 Reminds me of mine with my bro to visit Mark Twain’s house. I find myself wanting to re-read Huck 🙂 🙂

    Welcome back to the land of such logic that it’s illogical! 😉

  15. Oh, is that Mrs Todd, the last photo? I like her look. It’s a photo with personality, not the staid kind that too often got/gets taken 🙂

  16. Heya Ralfast,

    Thanks!

    And good call on Emily Blunt. 🙂

  17. Sputsie!!!

    I thank thee. 🙂

    Nice coincidence that you picked up Aurora Leigh. My desire to read Elizabeth’s works increased after I was reminded of her while touring the Homestead. Which bio did you get?

    The Mark Twain House must’ve been very cool!

    And yup, the last photo is Mrs. Todd. It is great, isn’t it? Probably a publicity still. Btw, she wrote some things, herself. They’re on Project Gutenburg. I’ll have to check them out sometime.

  18. I truly enjoyed the tour with my sister. What was the name of that book you wanted but left behind? MA misses you! Maybe one day people will tour YOUR humble Berlin abode!

  19. (((((Donna!))))

    I’m so happy to see you at my little blog! 🙂

    Hee hee. Considering the size of my humble abode, it would be a *very* quick tour.

    Hmmm….can’t recall any books I left behind there.

    Miss you!
    And thanks again for everything!!!

  20. makes me wonder if Emily was alive during this time period if she’d have had a blog. Maybe, but if she did she probably would’ve had more of a livejournal.

  21. Heya Colby,

    I think you’re on to something there! 🙂

  22. Is the first picture Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the second picture George Eliot?

  23. Hi Lyra,

    You are correct. 🙂


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