Emily Dickinson : Life, Family and Love

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      Emily Dickinson an American poetess was born on 10 December 1830 to a leading family of Amherst Massachusetts, the middle child of Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross, treasurer of prestigious Amherst College. Her father was a law graduate of Yale College and had a successful career as a lawyer. He was a prosperous man and held various posts of social responsibility. He took interest in social and political activities and served as a member of the legislature of the Massachusetts and was elected to the national Congress for one term. Emily belonged to a talented family whose members were dependent on one another for delight. All the members respected Dickinson's choice of contemplative life. Dickinson's father is generally considered to be a very domineering, almost a formidable personality, who dominated the lives of all his children. But this is rather an exaggerated view. He was, in fact, a very affectionate father who had the warmth of deep feeing for his children. He was particularly protective towards the two younger children who were both daughters.

Emily belonged to a talented family whose members were dependent on one another for delight. All the members respected Dickinson's choice of contemplative life. Dickinson's father is generally considered to be a very domineering, almost a formidable personality, who dominated the lives of all his children.
Emily Dickinson

      Emily said of her father: His heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists. She was extremely worried about the small, timid and strained life of her mother. Austin and Emily were the flamboyant Dickinsons. Austin wore a wide-brimmed planter's hat and loved racing his horses down Main Street for Emily's benefit. Emily had titian hair and large brown eyes.

Impact of her Father:

      The Dickinson domain consisted of the Homestead', the family home where Emily and Lavinia, Dickinson's sister, remained with the elder Dickinsons, and 'the Evergreen', the large elegant house next door that Edward Dickinson built for Austin when he married Emily's beloved friend Susan Gilbert. Dickinsons had an excellent education at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Seminary. The family library was extensive and the Dickinsons subscribed to the leading periodicals of the day. Susan Gilbert became one of the leading hostesses in New England and the intellectual life of the Evergreen was a legend. Amherst itself was the center of a distinguished cultural life, with society equal to that in any city in culture and education.

      Dickinson's first and enduring love was what she called "the phosphorescence of learning". She loved to call herself a scholar. At the age of fourteen she extolled her studies at Amherst Academy. She was mainly involved in Mental Philosophy, Geology, Latin and Botany. By the age of fifteen she was confirmed in the life of study and contemplation. At Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Dickinson had experienced a kind of ideal community, where learning and affection and large occupations were readily exchanged. It was a community of equals that allowed autonomy in relatedness and suggested the possibility of a life that might include both love and learning.

Influence of her Brother:

      Emily Dickinson was also influenced by her brother, William Austin Dickinson, and shared his good taste and enthusiasm in the enjoyment of poetry and music. She wrote some of her most delightful letters to him, adopting invariably a bantering tone. Austin finally settled down in Amherst as his father's neighbour and ultimately succeeded his father as a competent lawyer and a leading citizen. His affection for his sisters continued without any show of decline and he was in the habit of spending some time with them every day, playing on the piano or listening to them while they played,

Emily's Isolation:

      Dickinson was never totally isolated in her life. She remained in touch with her close friends through letters and their visits. For much of her adult life, she was recluse and homebound and letters provided her with a social context that was otherwise lacking. She lived a deliberately secluded life in the company of neighbours and close friends - most of them known to her through her family. Seldom as an adult did she have an occasion to present herself to a stranger.

Emily's Friends:

      Elizabeth ( sister ) and Josiah Holland were among her closest friends. The Hollands shared Dickinson's literary interests. Holland worked on the Springfield Republican and in 1870 founded Scribner's Monthly. The Holland correspondence is among the richest. With her cousins Frances and Louis Norcross Dickinson also shared a lifelong intimacy. She also favoured them with some of her best dressed thoughts. Dickinson found in Samuel Bowles the vitality, expansiveness and physical beauty that she found in Susan. Her letters to Bowles were full of extravagant praise and loving concern,

Her Love:

      The most difficult part of a biographical note on Emily Dickinson, is to reconstruct her emotional life. Most of the conjectures about her emotional life cannot be proved on the basis of the available evidence. She must have undergone some kind of an emotional and spiritual crisis from which she did not wholly recover till the end

      In the late 1870s Dickinson was courted and fell in love with an old family friend, Judge Otis Lord. In later life, she often liked to say quietly that the beloved of poems is no one other than God.

Last Decade of her Life:

      The last decade of her Dickinson's life was punctuated by the deaths of those she loved. In 1874 it was her father; in 1878, Samuel Bowles; in 1882 her mother, in 1883, her nephew, young Gilbert Dickinson; in 1884 Otis Lord; in 1885 Helen Hunt Jackson.

Death of Emily:

      Dickinson herself fell ill of Brights disease in November 1885 and died 15 May 1886.

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