New Online Emily Dickinson Archive

This reclusive, intensely shy and private poet, virtually ignored by the literati during her 19th century  lifetime, has acquired a staying power and an exponentially growing reputation today that would have shocked the socks off the people who knew her well.

She has even attracted a lunatic fringe and become a rage, an obsession, a metaphor for the untethered and non-metaphoric–Horrors, she has even become, for some, an idea fixee, the mystical key to the universe, a synecdoche for all that is right (as well as wrong) with the world, as in:

emily d tatoo w books

Nevertheless. Where was I, anyway???  Are those LPs he’s looking at?  Rather thin for books per se (I would say). Whatever, no matter.

Oh. Well. So, to resume….

So voluminous today has become the spirited discussion online about Dickinson, as a matter of fact, that I have had to dump my “Google Alert” for “Emily Dickinson”  because my email inbox finally exploded with the volume of the “daily updates.”

Yes, Emily Dickinson has become a very hot property, something that has not passed unnoticed to the university libraries in possession of her original manuscripts, letters, trivia and ephemera.

So it comes as no surprise that the New York Times recently had a piece worth the notice of even the most thick-skinned, well nigh soporific Dickinsonian sponges such as myself. It announces the creation of the long sought Holy Grail for students and scholars intent on primary research into the life and work of this major American poet.

For the delectation of others of my ilke, those fans and scholars who just can’t get enough of this poet’s corpus delecti, I’m passing it along —


Enigmatic Dickinson Revealed Online


New York Times, Published: October 22, 2013

The manuscripts of Emily Dickinson have long been scattered across multiple archives, meaning scholars had to knock on numerous doors to see all the handwritten drafts of a poet whose work went almost entirely unpublished in her lifetime. …

The online Emily Dickinson Archive, to be inaugurated on Wednesday, promises to change all that by bringing together on a single open-access Web site thousands of manuscripts held by Harvard University, Amherst College, the Boston Public Library and five other institutions. Now, scholars and lay readers alike will be able to browse easily through handwritten versions of favorite poems, puzzle over lines that snake along the edges of used envelopes and other scraps of paper, or zoom in on one of Dickinson’s famous dashes until it almost fills the screen.

“To have all these manuscripts together on one site and to have it so thoroughly searchable is extraordinary,” said Cristanne Miller, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a member of the project’s advisory board.

But the project, organized and financed by Harvard, has also generated enough behind-the-scenes intrigue to fill an imaginary Journal of Emily Dickinson Studies, as one board member jokingly put it.

Since planning began two years ago, there has been a revival of decades-old tensions between Harvard and Amherst, which hold the two largest Dickinson collections. And sometimes-bitter debate has flared on the advisory board, with some members saying that Harvard’s choice of which materials to include provides too narrow an answer to a basic question: Just what counts as an Emily Dickinson “poem,” anyway?

“The scholarship with any major figure produces factions and divisions,” said Christopher Benfey, a Dickinson scholar at Mount Holyoke College, who is not involved with the project. “But with Dickinson, the truly bizarre thing is the quarrel has been handed to generation after generation after generation.”

The trouble began when Dickinson died, in 1886, leaving behind just 10 published poems and a vast and enigmatic handwritten paper trail, ranging from finished-seeming poems assembled into hand-sewn books to fragments inscribed on advertising fliers, envelope flaps, brown household paper, even a chocolate wrapper.

After finding a cache of writings in a locked chest, Dickinson’s sister Lavinia gave them first to Susan Dickinson, the wife of their brother, Austin, to organize and publish. When Susan worked too slowly, the papers went to Austin’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, who helped edit the first published edition of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Todd subsequently claimed ownership to some manuscripts, furthering a long-running legal dispute called “the war between the houses.” [more at links above and below]

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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