How was Emily Dickinson Able to be Frugal and Fruitful in Her Art?


Ange Mlinko in The Nation:

[T]he electronic age has a Dickinson of its own: That’s the URL of the Emily Dickinson Archive, launched October 23 of last year, which features high-resolution images of the manuscripts included not only in Franklin’s Variorum Edition but also the collections of various libraries along the Eastern Seaboard: the American Antiquarian Society, Amherst College, Yale’s Beinecke Library, the Boston Public Library, Harvard’s Houghton Library, the Library of Congress, Smith College Libraries and the Vassar Special Collections. All of these institutions worked together to consolidate the scattered corpus, at least virtually, and make it available to the public under a Creative Commons license.

Are we now closer to the real Emily Dickinson? Not by a long shot, says the chief archivist at Amherst College, which owns 850 of her manuscripts, of which a little over half (539) are in the online archive. Another omission: only the manuscripts of her poems, not her letters, made the initial cut. But who decides what a poem is? Dickinson’s letters, like Keats’s, are universally acknowledged as masterpieces in their own right. Some of the letters are poems, and from others she culled many verses. Dickinson’s letters blur the boundaries between genres: she employed as much circumlocution, compression, metaphor and sound work in her correspondence as she did in her poetry.

Yet even if all, or most, of Dickinson’s manuscripts end up online, would we be any closer to the real thing? In a material sense, undoubtedly so: with the tools we already use to zoom in on maps (to find the location of a new restaurant) or shopping websites (to see the detail on a jacket), we can get as close as we want to examine how Dickinson formed her c’s or how little paper she required to write a quatrain in her own hand.

More here.