Notes On Emily Dickinson

When I sat down to write my mash-up last summer, it actually didn’t take very long for me to choose Emily Dickinson as my lead character. When I decided to focus on mashing something with the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily just seemed like a perfect fit.

Why, you might ask?

Well, what most people know about Emily is that she was a bit of a recluse and wrote morbid poems in her room all day, none of which were discovered until after her death.

And if that is all you know, that is fine.  Believe it or not, it’s completely true.

My book explores what might have caused Emily to become a recluse, and also what might have inspired her to write such dark poetry. So it’s very important for the reader to at least know that about Emily before they start reading my book.

I actually spent quite a bit of time researching Emily’s life, and using real life experiences and people in my book. I wanted it to have a “real life” feel to it, and I think I accomplished that because some people have even questioned some of what I wrote.  As I’ve said before, this is fiction, folks, but if you think it’s historical fiction, then I’ve done my job and written a great book that is believable. And maybe I’ve done just that.

Here are some more “real life” notes about Emily and the people in her life that you probably didn’t know about, which inspired much of the storyline in the book. No worries…I’m not going to tell you how I used them in Dickinstein because I don’t want to give anything away.

  • Emily had a younger sister named Lavinia who was one of the most significant people in Emily’s life.  She was two years younger than Emily, but most people thought they were the same age. They shared a bedroom until they were in their twenties. It was Lavinia who discovered Emily’s poems after Emily died, and she is the reason we know of Emily’s work today.
  • Emily wanted her poems and all of her papers to be destroyed upon her death. It is quite possible she did not want them to be ridiculed or judged. Emily hated criticism.
  • Emily feared death. She lost many friends and relatives at a young age due to sickness. It is quite possible this is why she wrote about it so much.
  • Emily and Lavinia had a brother named Austin who lived next door with his wife. Austin had an affair with a neighbor named Mabel Todd. Though I don’t give much attention to the affair in my book, I do mention it. The affair caused quite a conflict between the Dickinson sisters and their sister-in-law because they allowed Austin to see Mabel in the family household.
  • Mabel Todd was invited to the Dickinson home to play the piano for Emily and her ailing mother. Austin thought it would lift their spirits. This is how their affair began.
  • Emily’s father was a well-known lawyer in the town of Amherst. He served on the school board, as did his son Austin.
  • Benjamin Newton, an apprentice in Emily’s father’s law office, befriended Emily and encouraged her to keep writing. Emily considered him to be her “first friend.”
  • Emily was quite smitten with a teacher named Leonard Humphrey. Though not much is known about their relationship, Humphrey plays an integral part in the book.
  • Emily wrote many letters to someone who she referred to as “Master.” Only 3 of these letters still exist today. The identity of the master remains unknown. I explore who it might have been in my book.
  • Scholars believe Reverend Charles Wadsworth was the master, another man in Emily’s life who stirred her.
  • Emily never married and it was rumored she was a lesbian.
  • Emily died at the age of 56 in 1886.  Her poems would not be published until 4 years later, mostly due to the turmoil caused by her brother’s affair.

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