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- The least sensational explanation has been offered by biographer Richard Sewall.
- She readily declared her love to him; yet, as readily declared that love to his wife, Mary.
- With a knowledge-bound sentence that suggested she knew more than she revealed, she claimed not to have read Whitman.
- “Split lives—never ‘get well,’” she commented; yet, in her letters she wrote into that divide, offering images to hold these lives together.
They alone know the extent of their connections; the friendship has given them the experiences peculiar to the relation. Edward Dickinson did not win reelection and thus turned his attention to his Amherst residence after his defeat in November 1855. At this time Edward’s law partnership with his son became a daily reality. Emily Dickinson had been born in that house; the Dickinsons had resided there for the first 10 years of her life. She had also spent time at the Homestead with her cousin John Graves and with Susan Dickinson during Edward Dickinson’s term in Washington.
From her own housework as dutiful daughter, she had seen how secondary her own work became. In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship. The gold wears away; “amplitude” and “awe” are absent for the woman who meets the requirements of wife. The loss remains unspoken, but, like the irritating grain in the oyster’s shell, it leaves behind ample evidence. Particularly annoying were the number of calls expected of the women in the Homestead.
Had her father lived, Sue might never have moved from the world of the working class to the world of educated lawyers. After her mother’s death, she and her sister Martha were sent to live with their aunt in Geneva, New York. They returned periodically to Amherst to visit their older married sister, Harriet Gilbert Cutler.
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Not religion, but poetry; not the vehicle reduced to its tenor, but the process of making metaphor and watching the meaning emerge. As early as 1850 her letters suggest that her mind was turning over the possibility of her own work. Extending the contrast between herself and her friends, she described but did not specify an “aim” to her life. She described the winter as one long dream from which she had not yet awakened.
Dickinson began to divide her attention between Susan Dickinson and Susan’s children. In the last decade of Dickinson’s life, she apparently facilitated the extramarital affair between her brother and Mabel Loomis Todd. Regardless of outward behavior, however, Susan Dickinson remained a center to Dickinson’s circumference. Born just nine days after Dickinson, Susan Gilbert entered a profoundly different world from the one she would one day share with her sister-in-law. The daughter of a tavern keeper, Sue was born at the margins of Amherst society. Her father’s work defined her world as clearly as Edward Dickinson’s did that of his daughters.
That winter began with the gift of Ralph Waldo Emerson’sPoemsfor New Year’s. Their heightened language provided working space for herself as writer. In these passionate letters to her female friends, she tried out different voices.
In these years, she turned increasingly to the cryptic style that came to define her writing. She asks her reader to complete the connection her words only imply—to round out the context from which the allusion is taken, to take the part and imagine a whole. Through her letters, Dickinson reminds her correspondents that their broken worlds are not a mere chaos of fragments. Behind the seeming fragments of her short statements lies the invitation to remember the world in which each correspondent shares a certain and rich knowledge with the other.