Published: April 11, 2017
NEW YORK CITY – “I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson” is on view through May 28 at the Morgan Library & Museum.
One of the most popular and enigmatic American writers of the Nineteenth Century, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote almost 1,800 poems. Nevertheless, her work was essentially unknown to contemporary readers since only a handful of poems were published during her lifetime and a vast trove of her manuscripts was not discovered until after her death.
Often typecast as a recluse who rarely left her Amherst, Mass., home, Dickinson was, in fact, socially active as a young woman and maintained a broad network of friends and correspondents even as she grew older and retreated into seclusion. Bringing together nearly 100 rarely seen items, including manuscripts and letters, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” – a title taken from her popular poem – is the most ambitious exhibition on Dickinson to date. It explores a side of her life that is seldom acknowledged: one filled with rich friendships and long-lasting relationships with mentors and editors.
The exhibition closely examines 24 poems in various draft states, with corresponding audio stops. In addition to her writings, the show features an array of visual material, including hand-cut silhouettes, photographs and daguerreotypes, contemporary illustrations and other items that speak to the rich intellectual and cultural environment in which Dickinson lived and worked. The exhibition is organized in conjunction with Amherst College.
Only ten of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems were published during her lifetime, but always with added titles and altered punctuation. She died at her home on May 15, 1886. Of her trove of poems, hundreds had been shared with her network of friends and correspondents, but Dickinson had kept sets and fascicles entirely private. These poems were only discovered by her sister, Lavinia, after her death.
Lavinia looked to Susan Dickinson, her sister-in-law and one of the poet’s closest friends, to publish them. But work proceeded slowly, and Lavinia eventually turned the manuscripts over to Mabel Loomis Todd, her brother Austin’s mistress. Todd dedicated much of the rest of her life to editing and publishing Dickinson’s poetry.
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