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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Emily Dickinson and Her Beloved Susan

Emily’s first letter to Susan is dated 1850.  It is not certain how Emily and Susan met.  Emily’s brother, Austin marries Susan, and the two women become sister-in-laws.

The letters from Emily to Susan indicate that Susan is the object of passionate attachment.  Susan saved the letters from Emily which shows how much she valued them.

Susan is independent, outspoken, deeply engaged with spiritual concerns, and like Emily, she is committed to pursuing intellectual growth.

The intellectual intimacy between Susan and Emily begins in the early years of their relationship.  In her letters to Susan, Emily frequently refers to the novels she is reading and uses various characters as metaphors or codes to relate feelings about herself and Susan.

In the letters that follow, Emily and Susan are in their early twenties.  Though Emily’s feelings of love, desire, and longing for Susan have often been dismissed as a “school-girl crush,” the letters resonate with intelligence, humor, and intimacy that cannot be reduced to adolescent flurry.

In July of 1856, Susan and Austin marry and move to the Evergreens, next door to Emily, the Dickinson Homestead.

Susan’s marriage to Emily’s brother was no doubt bittersweet for Emily.  It ensured that her dear friend would be close to the family.  But it is obvious that this transition in their lives never put an end to their correspondence.

Between mid-1850s and mid-1860s, Emily’s correspondence to Susan acknowledges that their emotional, spiritual, physical communion is vital to her creative insight.

While Emily’s expressions of love for Susan mature over the decades, they do not become less intense, and the transformation from early exuberance to the direct, reflects the magnitude of Emily’s passion and respect for her beloved friend.

In May of 1886, Emily dies.  Susan takes on the task of putting together Emily’s writings, but could not accomplish the task do to the demands of Emily’s sister, Vinnie and Higginson’s market, she could not conform to their vision.  The project would be handed over to Mabel Loomis Todd knowingly by Vinnie.

Mabel Todd had become Austin’s mistress.  The affair continued until Austin’s death in 1895 and was quite public.  This distraction and Emily’s death prevented her from moving quickly on the project, and Vinnie only grew impatient.

When Emily’s writings were turned over to Mabel Todd, Mabel went to great lengths to suppress any trace of Susan as Emily’s primary audience.

While is true that Emily went to extraordinary measures to preserve her privacy, the facts of her solitude have been taken out of context.  Like many artists, she needed a great deal of time alone for reading, contemplation, and writing.

Infused with eroticism, the poetry letters exchanged between Emily and Susan was part of the texture of their daily life.  They simultaneously lived and screened their passion.  The letters and poems are standing proof of a devoted correspondence that has had a profound impact on the history of American literature. Nearly all of Susan’s letters to Emily were destroyed at the time of Emily’s death.

Reference~ Open Me Carefully, Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson