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Emily Dickinson in Love

Emily Dickinson in Love: The Case for Otis Lord

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Emily Dickinson in Love
    Book Description:

    From the award-winning author of Poe the Detective: The Curious Circumstances Behind "The Mystery of Marie Roget"comes a compelling argument for the identity of Emily Dickinson's true love

    Proud of my broken heart

    Since thou didst break it,

    Proud of the pain I

    Did not feel till thee . . .

    Those words were written by Emily Dickinson to a married man. Who was he?

    For a century or more the identity of Emily Dickinson's mysterious "Master" has been eagerly sought, especially since three letters from her to him were found and published in 1955. InEmily Dickinson in Love, John Evangelist Walsh provides the first book-length treatment of this fascinating subject, offering a solution based wholly on documented facts and the poet's own writings.

    Crafting the affair as a love story of rare appeal, and writing with exquisite attention to detail, in Part I Walsh reveals and meticulously proves the Master to be Otis Lord, a friend of the poet's father and a man of some reputation in law and politics. Part II portrays the full dimensions of their thirty-year romance, most of it clandestine, including a series of secret meetings in Boston.

    After uncovering and confirming the Master's identity, Walsh fits that information into known events of Emily's life to make sense of facts long known but little understood-Emily's decision to dress always in white, for instance, or her extreme withdrawal from a normal existence when she had previously been an active, outgoing friend to many men and women.

    In a lengthy section of Notes and Sources, Walsh presents his proofs in abundant detail, demonstrating that the evidence favors one man so irresistibly that there is left no room for doubt. Each reader will decide if he has truly succeeded in making the case for Otis Lord.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5337-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Though she was a plain-looking woman, Emily Dickinson managed to interest and even fascinate a goodly number of men both young and old. Small and thin, standing barely an inch or two over five feet, weighing when young less than a hundred pounds—“like the Wren,” she described herself—by all accounts she had in her favor something more lasting than physical allure. At least on those men susceptible to a rare combination of wit, an impish charm of manner and mind, and sharp intelligence, it appears she exerted an instant, strong appeal.

    Still, as her niece recalled, she did...


    • 1 TWENTY OLD LETTERS: A Reconstructed Episode
      (pp. 9-18)

      Scattered along the wooden platform of the Amherst train depot stood a small crowd of men and women, all waiting for the early morning train up to Boston. Conspicuous was a tall, distinguished figure, one of the town’s leading citizens, the prominent lawyer Austin Dickinson, now looking grim as he paced back and forth. It was the summer of 1892, and on this particular morning Squire Dickinson had good reason to appear a bit stiffer and sterner than was usual with him. Once in Boston he would be faced with the difficult, unpleasant, and completely unpredictable task of dealing with...

      (pp. 19-27)

      On the evening of May 16, 1886, the body of the fifty-five-year-old Emily Dickinson lay in an open coffin in the library of the family home in Amherst. Three days before, she had lapsed into a coma, the latest of several such attacks. After some sixty hours of terribly labored breathing she died. The medical diagnosis, identified eighteen months previously, was Bright’s disease.

      Among the few mourners in the spacious room was Vinnie Dickinson, still shaken by the sudden loss of the sister who for all of Vinnie’s fifty-three years had been her closest friend. Holding in her hand a...

      (pp. 28-42)

      In Emily’s dainty fingers during the years 1858 and 1859 there was poised for a good part of almost every day a pen or a pencil. As is evident from what survives, during the course of those years she didn’t slacken her always busy letter-writing pace and was caught up as well in her first hectic dedication to the writing of serious poetry. A great many, even most, of her waking hours would have been spent seated at the square little writing table still to be seen in her room.

      As she sat gathering her thoughts, no doubt at least...

      (pp. 43-54)

      To judge by its frequency and the functions assigned it, Emily’s favorite poetic image pictures her own heart as a separate entity, a living organism in and of itself. As the links in a chain, seven of her poems built on this separate-heart imagery lead straight through the Master to Otis Lord. In the last of the seven she coyly names him.

      The first, written at the same time as the first Master letter, sets the mood and circumstance, as she warns her wary heart against the subtle attractions of “him”:

      Heart! We will forget him,

      You and I tonight,...


      (pp. 57-81)

      Dressed in a light brown frock with a fashionably tight bodice and a billowing, floor-length skirt, at the sound of the knocker Emily came down the wide hall to the front door. Outside, she guessed as she reached for the knob, stood the man, a lawyer, her father had made friends with shortly before.

      An alumnus of Amherst College, Otis Lord was making one of his few return visits to town since his graduation fifteen years before. He and Mr. Dickinson were serving together on a college fund-raising committee, and since he was alone and far from his wife and...

      (pp. 82-96)

      My first definite memory of Aunt Emily,” recalled Martha Bianchi, Sue’s daughter, “is of her coming to the door to meet me in her white dress—looking to me just like another little girl—when I was to be left with her for safe-keeping on Sunday mornings while the grown-ups of both houses went to church.”

      Taking her little six-year-old niece with her into the small conservatory, Emily, with the girl’s eager help, would tend and water the plants. Then they’d go down to the pantry cellar seeking some choice morsel or into the kitchen to bake cookies. Little Martha...

      (pp. 97-111)

      The young man, a student at Amherst College named William Mather, came hurrying down the Main Street sidewalk, and at the Dickinson house he turned in. Sent with a message for Miss Vinnie, he’d been told to go to the back door. Like most people in Amherst at the time, especially the students, he knew all about the white-robed recluse who resided here, the woman known as the village Myth.

      He also knew that there was no chance of catching the least glimpse of her. If he did somehow spot her, he’d have a good story to tell when he...

      (pp. 112-118)

      Lying on her bed comatose, her breathing loud, rasping, and ragged, from about 10 a.m. on May 13 to about 6 p.m. on May 15: this is not the way death ordinarily comes for the unfortunate victim of Bright’s disease.

      Coma and convulsions are associated with the deadly ailment, but labored breathing long continued, no. Such extreme respiratory difficulty as gripped Emily for some sixty interminable hours before she died indicates that some other pernicious cause was involved besides Bright’s disease. Something was at work in her system beyond the complications to be expected from her diagnosed ailment.

      Concerning Emily’s...


    • Appendix A MRS. LORD’S DIARY
      (pp. 121-124)
      (pp. 125-148)
      (pp. 149-152)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 153-154)
  10. Notes and Sources
    (pp. 155-192)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 193-194)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 195-198)
  13. Index to Poems
    (pp. 199-200)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)