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Glossary for Wild Nights with Emily

compiled for Caffeine Theatre by Jennifer Shook
Draft: January 18, 2010 (Stay tuned for additions and finesses…)
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (pg. ii) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA
Lavinia Dickinson (ii) (Vinnie) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA
Mattie Dickinson (ii) (Martha Dickinson Bianchi) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA
(Mattie was also known as Mopsy. If they seem extraordinarily fond of nicknames, notice how
many of them have the same names…)
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (ii) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA and (the most delightful photo). He was never
actually the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, but he was a major contributor, as well as a
Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and commander of the first Union regiment of freed African
American soldiers.
Maggie (ii) (Margaret Maher) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA; The second of two
Margaret, she was a mainstay of the Homestead for the last 17 years of Emily’s life, and
Lavinia’s most constant companion after. They say Lavinia and Maggie ate meals in the same
room, but facing opposite directions to preserve class decorum. Aife Murray claims that
Dickinson got some of her Irish-inflected grammar from spending time with Maggie. see for more info on the servants.
Ophthalmologist (ii) Henry W. Williams: SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA and
Shakespeare Reading Society (ii): our friend the English National Poet had been somewhat
overlooked for a couple of centuries, but was experiencing a massive upsurge in popularity in
preparation for the tercentennial of his birth in 1864. Still, many of the plays continued to be
“cleaned up” for decorum’s sake (for example, the Lear where Cordelia and Edgar get married
in the end), and many knew them not from the plays themselves, but from family books like
Charles and Mary Lamb’s 1807 Tales founded on the Plays of Shakespeare (illustrated by
Arthur Rackham). (Good sidenote: they got a lot of press because Mary had a breakdown and

killed her mother with a kitchen knife. Dorothy Parker wrote a play about them.) But, with
tours by the likes of Edmund Kean (who restored Lear’s original ending) and Edwin Booth
(John Wilkes’ brother) dominating serious U.S. drama, and the lecture circuit bringing readings
and talks, these ladies were trying out the real thing. Emily did attend lectures and readings of
Shakespeare as well, and apparently saw Othello on one of her trips.
CHARLES Wadsworth (ii) (The inconsistent first names are errors.) SEE EMILY
DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA. Emily heard this silver-tongued new-style minister preach
twice in Philadelphia around 1855. He visited in 1860 but then moved to San Francisco. He
visited again in 1880 and died in 1882. Their alleged love story is the subject of the gooey
1950s drama Eastward in Eden.
Mount Holyoke (ii) The first of the Seven Sister colleges, Mount Holyoke is in South Hadley
(and was originally called the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary or South Hadley Female
Seminary). It was founded by “chemist and educator” Mary Lyon in 1837. Currently has
2,200 students, all female.
Fast facts:
Dickinson Homestead (ii): Built around 1813 by grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson,
Emily’s family lived there until 1840, and returned in 1855.
Descriptions of the Mansion/Homestead:
museum website:
Ralph W. Franklin (iii) Madeleine says she’s using Franklin’s reading edition. His is the most
recent and seems to be the most respected of the collections of poems.
Thomas L. Johnson (iii) discussion on Johnson's groundbreaking 1955 3-volume edition of the
poems, the first publication where they all appeared together, and chronologically:
only picture (1): the one known photo of Emily is the famous hairbun daguerreotype, circa
Recently, a possible later photo has been found (animated!):
The image of her in white with frizzy hair is a reproduction of an oil painting done of her as a
child; used in the first volume of her letters; “both brother and sister admitted did not resemble
her” (Ancestors’ Brocades p. 273)… This image definitely fueled the casting and costume
design for the 1950s play Eastward in Eden.
era’s craze for photography (1):
snuff coin (2): a snuff coin appears to be an advertising token for a snuff shop?
snuff coin??
only publish two poems in my lifetime (3): In 1984 Karen Dandurand discovered a number of
published poems previously unnoted. Since all were published anonymously, they were hard to

track. We now know of 10 published in her lifetime (and one letter):
Scurrilous But True (3) from Sewall's Life of Emily Dickinson: Mabel had labeled a
manuscript with this phrase. p. 188-189 on Susan's supposed dread of the "low practices" of
"marital relations" and her attempts to abort. (Austin’s remark about "strengthening of the line"
is quoted in Sewall--p. 194)
Dickinson estate (3) Mabel’s papers went to Amherst, Mattie’s to Harvard. Austin/Susan
correspondence to Yale. Mabel’s also sat in a trunk for 30 years after the trial over the land gift.
(Lavinia’s lawyers were holding a deposition from Maggie exposing the affair!)
preceptor (4): teacher/mentor: Emily’s word for Higginson, amongst other readers.
claims of Susan’s daughter Mattie (4): Although working to counteract Mabel’s image of her
aunt as cut off from the family (and working to emphasize the importance of her mother), Mattie
did reinforce “The Myth” of the poet, wearing white, flitting about quietly, childlike and busy
with gingerbread. The “war between the houses” begun with Mabel and Susan was passed
down to their daughter, Mattie (Bianchi) and Millicent Todd Bingham.
her book (4): Mattie published The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson (the first full-length
study) in 1924 and Emily Dickinson: Face to Face in 1932.
The Single Hound (4): See - the first of at least
six volumes of Dickinson’s poetry edited by Mattie, published in 1914. “With a lighter editorial
hand than her predecessors, Bianchi did not title the poems and kept their rhyme schemes intact.
Incensed by publications about her aunt that she judged inaccurate, Bianchi wrote several
memoirs to assert her unique perspective as “the one person now living who saw [Emily
Dickinson] face to face” (Bianchi, p. xxii).” She was, of course, also working with different
manuscripts, having gotten hers from Susan and Lavinia. See for the full list of major poem editions.
Renee Tursi of the NY Times (4) Renée Tursi is an assistant professor of American literature
at the College of Charleston. This refers to her review of Open Me Carefully, Emily’s letters to
Susan edited by Martha Nell Smith:
my daughter (4) Millicent Todd Bingham inherited her mother’s quest, publishing Ancestor’s
Brocades: The Literary Debut of Emily Dickinson in 1945 and Emily Dickinson’s Home and
Emily Dickinson: A Revelation (about Lord) in 1955.
little hussy (4) Yes, Abby Farley is reputed to have said nearly these exact words.
abortion doctor (5) alleged by Mabel: Sewall p. 188-189
abortion in historical context:


Drunkard (5) I have yet to find a reference to Susan’s drinking, but drinking at all would be
noticeable in a town where dancing and card games are considered wild, and the temperance
movement was in full swing. Sue’s first Christmas at the Evergreens she hung out evergreen
wreaths, shocking the pious neighbors.
My personal acquaintance with Emily Dickinson (5): Indeed the title of a document written
by Clara Newman, much used by early biographers, biased by Clara’s dislike of Susan. She was
14 when she moved into the Evergreens, in 1857.
gondola accident (6) Sadly, I can find no reference to the details of the Newmans’ demise.
Letter (6): (early December 1852) to Susan Gilbert (Dickinson)
You can read the full text of this letter at
I miss this bit: “We were much afflicted yesterday, by the supposed removal of our Cat from
time to Eternity. She returned, however, last evening, having been detained by the storm,
beyond her expectations. I see by the Boston papers that Giddings is up again - hope you'll
arrange with Corwin, and have the North all straight.” (Giddings and Corwin are Whig leaders.
Corwin, Secretary of the Treasury under Fillmore, opposed the fugitive Slave Law) It is signed
“Yours til death, Judah”
Smith’s note: “H B 176, L 97, early December 1852. LL 55, in part, with changes. Dickinson's
salutation intrigues: "Even in a gleeful moment, having pirated the marriage vow to echo 'Till
death do us part' in 'Yours till death -,' Dickinson nicknames herself 'Judah,' after the lost tribe
of Israel, humorously acknowledging her secession from conventional comportment" (Rowing
in Eden 163). Johnson provides illuminating contextual details: "In the autumn of 1852, Edward
Dickinson was the Whig candidate for Congress from the tenth district, and was elected in
December"; Dickinson nicknames visitors after "General Wolfe (who died victorious at Quebec)
and Major Pitcairn (fatally wounded at Bunker Hill)"; Joshua Reed Giddings had broken with
the Whig party in 1848; Thomas Corwin, Fillmore's Secretary of the Treasury, opposed the
Fugitive Slave Law, endorsed by the Whigs; and with "God moves. . . ," Dickinson alludes to
William Cowper's "Light Shining out of Darkness," which Dickinson would know.”
repine (6) express discontent
52 cord black walnut (6): a cord is a measurement of wood. Is this wood to make paths? or
just for fires?
Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (8) Emily attended 2 terms 1847-8.
South Hadley in the 1800s:
Daily life at the seminary:
South Hadley is a few miles from Amherst, so Emily could sometimes go home for a day, and
visitors could come for an evening.
LETTER (8):; to Susan, June 27, 1852.
Susan was expected back in July.
account of the Roman Catholic System (8) While Puritanism always defined itself against
Popery, the influx of Irish labor during the potato famine of the 1840s and 50s made
Catholicism much more visible.

Puritan Churchgoers (9)
POEM (9): published as “My Rose,” and thus not read as a love poem, but a nature metaphor.
It was addressed to Sue., written 1850s
Pygmy Seraphs (9) a seraph is an angel of the first order, or popular depiction of the winged
head of a child (thus, pygmy)
Vevay (9)
Coterie (9) exclusive circle with a common purpose
Ambuscade (10) as in ambush, lying in wait to attack
damask (10) woven pattern fabric
Duke of Exeter (10) a title created in the late Middle Ages—owned by the half-brother of
Richard II and the uncle of Henry VI
Everyone is delighted (that Susan is reading) (11) Unlike Emily, Susan was quite the social
butterfly, as was Lavinia.
2000 census showed a 34,874 population.
(There’s a link at the bottom of this page to an 1886 map of Amherst.)
Identity is a modern construct. (17) I have not found precisely whom if anyone Madeleine is
quoting here, but this argument stems primarily from Foucault. Myself, I find it suspect, as it
suggests that a 19th century lack of labeling rules out affinity.
gay (17)
1830 to 1886 (17) See the lovely timelines at and for some context.
There is a reason she walked up the stairs and shut the door. (17)
did not interact with the people in her town (17)
Sylvia Plath (17) The line is from her poem “Point Shirley, Revisited”: … Plath went to Smith College, in neighboring
Mary Lyon (17) (Lyon, not Lyons):
Superfluous fun fact: Jen lived in the Mary Lyon dormitory, previously a girls prep school, her
junior year of college.

rise if they loved Jesus, Emily was the only one who remained seated (18)
This is likely an apocryphal story, told by Clara Newman; probably Lyon would only make such
demands among small groups of students. We do know that Emily visited her with 16 others to
discuss her “anxiety” about salvation. Lyon divided the students upon matriculation into 3
groups: “professors of faith,” “hopers,” and “no-hopers.”
Professor at UC Davis (18)
The Yellow Rose of Texas (18): Many, though not all, of Dickinson’s poems can be sung to
“The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and “Amazing Grace.” This is because they
follow an English ballad form of alternating tetrameter and trimeter lines, also used in many of
Isaac Watts’ Anglican hymns, which usually alternated rhyme in either the abab or abcb pattern.
Watts’ hymns came across the Atlantic through Ben Franklin in the first Great Awakening, and
were used by the First Church of Amherst during the Second Awakening,
POEM (18): the letter version dates to about 1859. “Embarrassed” is a stage direction,
alluding to the “dive” (Sidenote: girls’ school in-joke: at Sarah Lawrence for the coming-out
episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom, they invented a drink called the “muff dive”—their answer
to “the blow job” cocktail.)
Mabel with scissors (18) Notes on mutilations (no one is sure who did them or why, but most
theories point either to Austin or Mabel):
great city of Boston (19) 87 miles from Amherst. Emily consulted Williams on her eyesight in
Feb 1864 and stayed April-Nov 1864 and April-Oct 1865 for treatments—mostly with the
Norcross cousins in a Cambridge boardinghouse, where she complained about lack of privacy.
Fanny and Loo Norcross (20): often referred to as “the little cousins” in her letters, see p. 19 of
Emily Dickinson Handbook
Oh, my! Boston Relations (20): a joke on “Boston Marriage,” a term referring to two
unmarried women living together for an extended period of time, whether sexually or
platonically partnered. Apparently the term derives from Henry James’ novel The Bostonians.
Your book (20): Henry W. Williams’ book was actually titled Recent Advances in Ophthalmic
Science; see the frontispiece at
Oh yes, you can read the book online—thank you Open Library:
machine (20)
turn-of-the-century viewfinder (20)
Susan is taking altogether too long (21): Lavinia originally gave her manuscripts to Susan to
edit, but then felt Susan was taking too long, so she handed them off surreptitiously to Mabel in

1887. Mabel and Higginson published the first collection (Poems) in 1890. See
I let you go first (21): another flash-forward, to the letter poem “You must let me go first”
dating to mid-1860s. (see p 75)
misshapen (22): It is now believed that she suffered from iritis or uveitis, inflammation of the
eye due to infection.
physiognomy (22) Science was still then obsessed with this idea that facial features indicated
character, so there was lots of measuring of heads going on.
hysterical (23): a key buzzword for 18th and 19th century medicine. “Hysteria” derives from the
word for womb, and any mysterious “women’s ailments” (from abdominal pain to headaches to
depression to complaints about ironing) were chalked up to malfunctions of the womb. It was
believed that unmarried women’s wombs could become dislodged, and that too much study
diverted blood to the brain and shrunk the womb. See, for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s
story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Bram Djikstra’s Idols of Perversity, or the diagnoses of Virginia
Woolf and Viv Eliot (T.S.’s wife).
LETTER: (I am sick today, dear Susie): late Jan. 1855 (Susan in Michigan with her brothers)
roasted chestnuts sent to you by a gentleman admirer: (24): In Feb. 1852, Susan did send
Austin a Valentine joking about sharing the chestnuts from another man. The couple was the
subject of gossip by 1852, though not engaged until 1853.
legal terms/Harvard Education (25)
presented you with books, with sweetmeats, and with fine liquers (25)
Father would tan my hide (re: drink) (25) Edward was involved in the temperance movement
tavern (26) although Dwight Gilbert owned a tavern, this does not make him lower class, as
often assumed. He was referred to as “The General” and held many civic positions.
teaching post (26) Susan taught math in Baltimore 1851-52
West (26): the trips “West” refer to Susan’s visits to her family in Grand Haven, MI. Madeleine
is conveniently conflating those trips with Susan’s teaching assignments, in Baltimore.
letter (26): Around Feb. 1852
some rain must fall (26): from "The Rainy Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "Into each
life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary." Austin and Emily loved and
quoted from Longfellow’s Kavanagh.
“love me more if ever you come home” (“”s) (27)


“speak of sacred things and frighten my dog” (27): paraphrased from 1862 letter to
She wrote often of Carlo, her Newfoundland/St Bernard, to Higginson.
POEM (28): 1881. Why does she not quote the second half of it?
“And quake -- and turn away,
Seraphic fear -Is Eden’s innuendo
"If you dare"? “
comic operatic duet/engagement (28) Austin and Susan were engaged March 1853.
house next door (29): the Evergreens was built by Edward as part of the deal to keep Austin
close (along with a law partnership). It was furnished by the Gilbert brothers. Descriptions of
the Evergreens: w/ pics:
POEM (Title divine, is mine) (30): 1861-66. “baby steps” is a stage direction. Manuscript:
Empress of Calvary (30)
Bridalled (30)
Tri Victory (30)
Concord (31) see ; pronounced CONCurd. The American Bloomsbury,
home of Thoreau, Emerson, Louisa May Alcott… Also famed as in “the Battles of Lexington
and Concord,” the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
Emily playing the piano (31): from "This Was a Poet" by George Frisbie Whicher: "She was
enraptured when her father bought her a piano, and with the help of Aunt S--- quickly learned to
play such songs as the popular 'Maiden, weep no more' and a few show pieces, among others
'The Grave of Bonaparte' and 'Lancers Quickstep.' Eventually she rose to the heights of 'The
Battle of Prague.'" (p.56)
ledger (32)
Basque (33): Bodice: Webster’s 1913: “A part of a lady's dress, resembling a jacket with a short
skirt; -- probably so called because this fashion of dress came from the Basques.” From
Wikipedia (with pic): In Victorian fashion, basque refers to a closely fitted bodice or jacket
extending past the waistline over the hips; depending on era, it may be worn over a hoopskirt
(earlier Victorian era) or bustle (later Victorian era). A basque bodice (i.e., when considered as a
dress component, to be worn with a specific skirt) could also be referred to as a "corset waist",
because of its close fit.”
Minuet (33):

must have thought it was in Geneva, Switzerland (35) – actually the wedding was in Geneva,
NY, 289 miles away, on July 1, 1856
POEM (36) (“The difference between Despair and Fear”) 1860s (1863?)
3 drafts addressed to “Master” (37) SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA “Master”
“Like You” (37): Part of a poem-letter of the “Master” trio (“If you saw a bullet hit a Bird”
L233), these words prove that the Master was a man—except that they were penciled in later.
And, many critics believe the letters might be performative, playing with Jane Eyre and/or
David Copperfield. See Martha Nell Smith’s Rowing in Eden for a full description of this longunnoticed addition. Also SEE EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA under “Master.”
heartbreak (38)
bells (38)
“Sue Forevermore” (38): from late 1850s “One sister have I in this house and one, a hedge
“I taste a liquor never brewed” (40) published by Bowles in Springfield Republican 1861:
I taste a liquor never brewed -From Tankards scooped in Pearl -Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of Air -- am I -And Debauchee of Dew -Reeling -- thro endless summer days -From inns of Molten Blue -When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door -When Butterflies -- renounce their "drams" -I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats -And Saints -- to windows run -To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the -- Sun -(JP 214; FP 207)
picture frame (41): Proof of the “Master” mystery frenzy, the portraits hanging in the
Homestead today are of Master candidates Wadsworth, Higginson, and Bowles, not as they
were in Emily’s time of her beloved authors George Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, and Elizabeth
Barrett Browning. George Eliot (her male pen name), was another of Emily’s favorite authors
(and her supposedly “plainness” was infamous), and Emily quotes from Eliot’s Mill on the
Floss, Adam Bede, and Middlemarch in her letters and poems. Browning was famously invalid,

and her Aurora Leigh shares many of the cultural references of Emily’s own story, including the
white dress, and lent Emily many images. Carlyle was a Scottish satirist.
Springfield Republican (41): “Sic transit gloria mundi” is the first poem known to have been
published; in the Feb. 20, 1852 Republican it was labeled “A Valentine” (see ED Encyclopedia)
propose to her (41):
purposefully discreet (41):
“divinity attracts a hideous face” (42):
“I see thee better in the dark” (42) letter to Susan:
a little cake, a little ice cream(42) This is Susan’s description of what she expected the
wedding to be, “the millionth wedding since the world began.” (See Leyda v. 1 p 342)
Niagara (42): I was wrong, they did go on honeymoon to Niagara Falls.
extra weaving (44) – This joke reads a bit obscure—weaving is one of the major metaphors for
women’s writing in the 19th century, equating the authoress with a feminine task… and the
metaphor of weaving does often occur in 19th century poetry, including Emily’s.
None of the family went (44)—true—the only people at the wedding at Susan’s aunt’s house
were some siblings and some of her family friends. Home weddings were common, and held by
the bride’s family common. Susan wrote that she has planned to be married in Amherst, but her
aunt “asserted her right as foster-mother.”
Letter: “I ran to the door”: Feb. 24, 1853
Apostle is askew (46)
Corinthians 1.15 (46) (First Corinthians 15, v 42-43): contrasts the earthly and heavenly
bodies, and describes the raising of the dead: about 12 lines later is “O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?" Here’s King James online:
POEM: Wild Nights (48): 1861; see commentary
jig music (48)
battledore (added by us to p 48): see A Companion to Emily Dickinson for descriptions of
Mattie’s entrancement at Emily and Bowles and Dwight Gilbert staying up all hours to play
battledore/shuttlecock (the early indoor predecessor of badminton).
A Masque of Poets (48): Emily possibly gave Helen Hunt Jackson permission to include her
poem in this anthology (anonymously) (June 16, 1878, written late 1850s). One review did
suggest it might be written by Emerson, even though it sounds like nothing he ever wrote.

“Success is Counted Sweetest” (49):
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory
As he defeated — dying —
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!
(Johnson 67)
host (49) multitude, also consecrated bread of communion—army, with religious overtones
(study guide for the poem here:
Emerson (49) : Ralph Waldo Emerson was the lion of the era’s poetry and essays (notably
“Self-Reliance”), and a leader of the Transcendentalist movement, combining love of nature
with a kindler, gentler spirituality and patriotism. He championed Thoreau, and Whitman used
his complimentary letter to sell Leaves of Grass (without Emerson’s permission, tricky Walt).
Emerson was also known as a great speaker, and came to Amherst on tour in 1857. He stayed at
the Evergreens, arranged by Susan, who was a huge fan. Emily liked his work. He had been a
minister before he left his church to write.
harping carpies (50) I am unconvinced that carpies is actually a word, and think perhaps she
means harpies, but harping harpies does not sound as good, does it? At any rate, harping is
obsessively gnawing at/returning to the same thing, and harpies are fierce-tempered women, as
in the winged monsters with female heads in Greek mythology. We get the idea.
letter from Susan (51): Sewall dates it to shortly after Ned's birth (summer 1861) and notes that
"lest I should seem to have turned away from a kiss" was cut out with scissors. Judith Farr dates it to autumn 1861 and notes this is the time of
Emily's crisis (and says Bowles was leaving and Sue's in love with Rev. Samuel Bartlett): Martha Nell Smith puts it into the context of Emily's complaints
about "Amherst society's compulsory coupling":
two lilies (51) Higginson described his first visit, including her childlike timidity, white dress,
the two daylilies, her talking “continuously;” he said he “could only sit and watch, as one does
in the woods.”
Atlantic Monthly (52) The Atlantic Monthly is now the Atlantic. They have a Flashback
section that is pretty interesting. Also you can

search the premium archives back to the 1890s. "The magazine's founders were a group of
prominent writers of national reputation, who included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier
and James Russell Lowell. Lowell was its first editor…. It was the first to publish Julia Ward
Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." --(
“young contributors” : Higginson published his advice in “Letter to a Young Contributor” in
the Atlantic Monthly in April 1862:
“Women’s Authorship” (52) Elaine Showalter is your go-to gal if you want to read up on
women’s changing place in the 19th century. BBC Radio 3 program Arts and Ideas 6/8/09
episode is free for download on iTunes and has a great interview with Showalter about her two
histories, A Literature of Their Own (British women writers) and A Jury of Her Peers
(American women’s writing), including some details about Julia Ward Howe’s early edgy
stories about sex, before her husband told her to stick to moral politics.
suffrage (53) The Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights was in 1848. Suffragists
assumed women would get the vote along with men of color with the 15th amendment (1868).
But this of course was not the case, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1875 that although women
officially became citizens with the 14th amendment, voting is a privilege, not a right. In the
1880s, the Women’s Christian Temperance Society was arguing that if women could vote they
would keep men sober. Higginson wrote in favor of
(He also presided at the wedding of radical feminist Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell, brother of
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell about whom Susan wrote, and he supported their protest of women’s
loss of legal existence at marriage):
vermicelli (53): can be pronounced –chelli or –selli. Literally “little worms,” it’s like spaghetti
but skinnier.
elaborate dinners (53):: Amherst being the quieter sister of Northampton, Susan’s dinners were
both praised and criticized for their European ways.
Italianate villa (53):: The Homestead is a Federalist style house (flat and square, with flat
shutters--classicizing architecture built in the United States between c. 1780 and 1830, and
particularly from 1785 to 1815) (though when the Dickinsons returned in 1855 they built on and
updated, adding a cupola); Italianate Villas were popular in U.S. starting in the 1840s and
include cupolas (also called belvedere = “good view”), picturesque towers, low-pitched roofs,
arch-shaped windows and doors crowned by window heads (on fancier homes), and especially
wide overhanging eaves supported by decorative brackets. (It is this latter feature, the brackets
under the eaves, that makes Italianate and Italian Villa homes easy to spot.)
Civil War nurses battalion (53): A comment on his surgical metaphors for edits?
male pen name (53): Several women wrote sometimes or always under male names: The
Brontes (Currer Bell), George Eliot, Georges Sand…

extra flourishes in the handwriting (53):: Higginson wrote that her first letter was in “a
handwriting so peculiar that it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by
studying the famous fossil bird-tracks in the museum of that college town. Yet it was not in the
slightest degree illiterate, but cultivated, quaint, and wholly unique. Of punctuation there was
little; she used chiefly dashes, and it has been thought better, in printing these letters, as with her
poems, to give them the benefit in this respect of the ordinary usages; and so with her habit as to
capitalization, as the printers call it, in which she followed the Old English and present German
method of thus distinguishing every noun substantive.”
to save from offending Paris (53): Not sure whether she is referring to the fashions of the city
or the Trojan abductor of Helen of Troy. Either way, it seems to make most sense is it reads as
one sentence “Better to focus on those persons it is still possible to save from offending Paris.”
the microscopic, in nature, the bees and the flowers (54)
seven newspapers (54) There is quite a lot of recent scholarship dedicated to showing how
much Emily was aware of and engaged in the world and the war. Companion to ED has a
whole section. Also A good friend of Austin’s
was killed and she wrote much about him. Austin bought out of the draft.
“all men say What to me” (54) Emily wrote this to Higginson in the same letter as she
describes her frightened dog.
seek posthumous publication (56) Yet another debate: whether she would have courted,
accepted, or avoided publication if it came her way…
published ten times in her lifetime (56):
others submitted poems in her behalf (56): It’s not certain whether she consented to any
dashes (56): the most famously confusing of her unusual syntax, and hardest to translate to type
surgery (57) (Civil war?)
Helen Hunt Jackson (58)
Now best known for her novel Ramona, though largely forgotten, during her life she was one of
the most popular female writers. Funnily, she never referred to herself as Helen Hunt Jackson,
only Helen Hunt in her first marriage and Helen Jackson in her second.
salon (59)
march-style dance (59)
“What did Jane Austen dance?”
English Country Dances from the Jane Austen balls:
Contra Dance: (New England Folk Dance):

fascicles (62) literally “bundle of fibers,” an installment or manuscript.
“Among Susan's papers are fascicles of favorite poems that both she and her sister Martha
copied out sometime in the 1850s. Rooted in a culture where modes of literary exchange
frequently included sending consolation poems, and making fascicles of favorite poems, as well
as commonplace books, and scrapbooks of treasured literary pieces, Dickinson's fascicle
assembly of her own poems and distribution of her own poems in epistolary contexts are
anything but eccentric.” – Smith,
children say they take messages (62)
dressed in white (63) The only surviving dress believed to be Emily’s is a white housedress
(wrapper). “Despite popular conceptions of Dickinson clad in her white dress, the poet herself
never mentions wearing white, nor does she wear white in the few existing images of herself. …
Thomas Wentworth Higginson provides one of the few contemporary descriptions of
Dickinson’s wearing white. After his visit to the Homestead in 1870, he recalled that the poet
was dressed in “a very plain & exquisitely clean white pique & a blue net worsted shawl". Local
townspeople promoted the image of Dickinson in white. Shortly after moving to Amherst in
1881, Mabel Loomis Todd wrote to her parents of the town’s “Myth”: “She dresses wholly in
white, & her mind is said to be perfectly wonderful" (Sewall, p. 216). Did wearing the color
white have symbolic meaning for Dickinson? The poet's friends as well as subsequent
Dickinson scholars have debated this question. Dickinson herself used white in her own writings
to describe anything from the soul to a wedding gown. The complex religious associations with
the color white would have been well known to the poet, a knowledgeable reader of the Bible.
The poet heroine of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, one of Dickinson's best-loved
books, wore white. Yet white was also practical, easy to care for in a time when bleaching was
considered a most reliable solution for cleaning soiled garments. Whatever the reason for her
color choice, Dickinson was buried in white and enclosed in a white casket.”
Gilbert and Gubar also discuss the “woman in white” image in The Madwoman in the Attic
There is a new book out called Becoming Jane Eyre that looks to be an interesting bio of the
Brontes. Higginson read one of Emily’s favorite poems, by Emily Bronte, at her funeral:
Wuthering Jane (64): a conflation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte
Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The moors and adopted gypsy boy and haunting come from WH. Jane is
the “plain” governess, who does marry her love at the end, after he loses his sight in a fire
(apologies for the Bronte spoiler). Though often compared, the books are wildly different in
terms of style and content; Emily B. leans more toward the gothic and Charlotte more toward
the Austenesque social. The nonexistent regaining of sight Lord describes actually does occur
in the psychological thriller novel Called Back, which were the words she wrote in her last letter
(to the Norcrosses) and later on her tombstone.
requested that I play the piano (67): well-trained young ladies would indeed go about playing
piano for people, and Emily did invite people over to do so. The Dickinsons of Amherst suggests
that perhaps Austin invited her, in Sept. of 1882. A product of music school, Mabel sang and

played around Amherst. This visit did in fact happen, and though Mabel never met Emily faceto-face, they exchanged notes and baskets of fruit, etc.
POEM (68) Published as “The Chariot” in 1890:
Because I could not stop for death
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –
Gib (68) Gilbert was the youngest of Austin and Susan’s children, born 1875, and very close to
Astronomer David Peck Todd (68) Mabel’s rather famous and also unfaithful husband (SEE
EMILY DICKINSON ENCYCLOPEDIA). They moved to Amherst in 1881.
whist party (69): Mabel herself was proud of the success of her whist parties. Austin and
Mabel referred to Sept. 16, 1882 as “The Rubicon,” when they declared their love outside a
whist party.
Whist was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are four players in two fixed
partnerships. Partners sit facing each other. The game is played clockwise. The rules:

Gib’s death (71) Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson died in 1883 of typhoid fever. His death sent
the entire family into seclusion to varying degrees. He died in Susan and Austin’s bedroom,
afterwards referred to as “The Dying Room,” and his own room was shut up untouched.
Ned’s epileptic fits (73) Ned developed epilepsy at age 16; had rheumatic fever as a child
(Dickinsons of Amherst p 41)
POEM (“You must let me go first”) (75): to Sue, mid-1860s
Emily’s body (75): Emily died in May 1886 after long illness and fairly sudden attack. Now,
she is most often diagnosed with hypertension and possible stroke. Then, the doctor used the
term Bright’s disease, a kind of catch-all diagnosis for kidney infection and other issues.
wash her body (76) : Habegger says her body was embalmed by the local undertaker (recent
but common practice) and dressed by Eunice Powell (probably a midwife or nurse), but the
flowers and design and obit were Susan’s. See
for description of laying-out and for obit.
See for laying-out.
paralytic invalid for years like her dear mother (76): Emily Norcross Dickinson’s illnesses
began around 1855, and are believed to be both physical and psychological. She had a stroke in
1875 (one year exactly after Edward’s death) and could not walk after. She died in Nov, 1882.
lower her basket of gingerbread (76): recipe for her gingerbread can be found from; Dickinsons of Amherst has photos of basket/rope.
erase all dedications to Susan (78) For example, “Her breast is fit for pearls” Mabel said was
to Bowles’ wife
POEM (79) “The Poets light but lamps” 1865
honorarium (79): Mabel was a very popular public speaker, and gave talks on her travels with
David Peck Todd to far-off lands like Japan, where she was the first Western woman to ascend
Mt. Fuji. Her talks on Emily were the most popular in her repertoire.

Extra links:
Austin’s art collection: