Still another version of the life of the nineteenth-century American poet, Emily Dickinson, this time a movie, has been released to theaters around the country. Terrence Davies, screenwriter and director of A Quiet Passion, has been captivated by her enigmatic world since a teenager, one that mirrors his own; its production is the highlight of his long career.

But the question remains—Just who was Emily Dickinson? How account for her extraordinary brilliance, given the late Puritanism in Amherst, Massachusetts, that seeped into the warp and woof of life, against which she stormed?

Among the scholarly studies of this poet, Richard B. Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974) presents a multifaceted perspective and affords readers their own take on this woman. By piecing together her correspondence and poems with those in her immediate world, as well as by substantiating his findings with newspaper articles and public records, he contextualizes her. We hear her voice and wonder at its sagacious humor. Fortunately for us, Emily’s pen was rarely idle and her letters, preserved.

But Sewall’s presentation of Emily’s world is unique: it bears his imprint of having been Professor of English Literature at Yale University for forty-two years. Volume I devotes single chapters to the principal players in Emily’s life: grandparents, parents, siblings Austin and Lavinia, Susan Gilbert, and Mabel Loomis Todd—all in relationship through correspondence. And Volume II contains the life of the poet, even further nuanced.

It has been said that the definitive biography of Emily Dickinson has yet to be written, and it must be done by a woman scholar.

There is hope, as Emily proclaims in poem # 314:

 

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