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Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson Paperback – October 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Paris Press; 1st edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0963818368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0963818362
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Emily Dickinson is a figure of intense contradictions: the hermit, the spinster, the frail woman in white who nonetheless wrote poems of almost painfully turbulent passion. For years, biographers have speculated about the male mentor who inspired Dickinson's work, naming intellectual figures like Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Samuel Bowles as possible candidates. As it turns out, however, they might have looked closer to home. For years, both before and after a painful break in their relationship, Dickinson wrote ardent letters to her friend (and eventual sister-in-law) Susan Huntington Dickinson. In fact, she wrote more letters to Susan than to anyone else, despite the fact that at one point Susan lived only a stone's throw away. Like Dickinson's poetry, these letters are a curious business: half epistles, half poems, idiosyncratically capitalized, punctuated, and spaced. They are not merely warm, in the 19th-century way; they are fierce, even erotic, in the kind of attachment they express. Yet editors Ellen Hart and Martha Smith aren't in the business of outing anyone; they prefer to simply present the correspondence in all its passionate oddity. Susan Dickinson was clearly a friend as well as one of the most valued readers of her sister-in-law's poetry--but was she its inspiration, as well? Hart and Smith let the reader decide.

From Library Journal

This intriguing new collection of letters and poems, compiled by two noted Dickinson scholars, reveals a little-known side of one of America's best-loved poets. Documenting a 36-year correspondence between Emily Dickinson and her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, the book does much to negate the popular image of Emily as a mysterious, lonely recluse. In writing filled with warmth, humor, playfulness, and joy, Emily shows her profound attachment to Susan as a friend and as an object of literary inspiration. The romantic and often erotically charged writings, censored or misinterpreted in earlier collections, will surprise many readers. Building upon standard works such as Thomas Johnson's Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958), Hart and Smith revise earlier scholarship and provide fresh commentary. Published by a highly selective feminist press that typically produces only two titles per year, this book is an important acquisition for academic and larger public libraries.?Ellen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
This collection of letters is essential to Dickinson studies and to anyone interested in the poet. Grouping Emily Dickinson's letters to her sister-in-law, Sue, who was also her best friend and only trusted editor, shows not only how close they were but also makes clear that they were intellectual peers. That is significant because so many of ED's peers did not understand her or did not recognize her importance as an intellectual and as a writer. Sue was fully appreciative of both and was able to engage in written conversation with ED about everything, including poetic advice. ED listened to advice from no one except Sue. The letters are printed as they appear on the written page without any editorial changes. This, too, is significant because it forces us to reread the letters--we have come to know the letters through the editorial work of T.H. Johnson and T. Ward, who regularized sentences and restructured paragraphs. Smith and Hart have wisely left the structure untouched so the effect for us is the same as it was for Sue all those years ago.
The editors are also co-editors of the Dickinson Electronic Archive, in which further evidence of Susan's intellect is available. Their work is just the beginning of a reassessment of Dickinson and her creative process but this work is important and this book is a must for anyone who claims to have an interest in Dickinson, no matter how slight.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Galen on November 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
This careful collection of amazing letters, and its informative introductions to each section, as well as its coda and notes, reinforces several things that fans of Dickinson likely already believe. Emily Dickinson's reputation was in many ways greatly distorted posthumously by her contemporary Mabel Loomis Todd, late-arriving dragon lady of the Dickinson menage (and eventual mistress of her brother Austin Dickinson, Susan's husband) and originator of "many of the fallacies that have since become Dickinson legend." (p.204) Emily Dickinson was capable of deep and durable friendship. She treasured her own company, and also that of a few close friends. She adored her brother's wife, Susan Huntington Dickinson, who lived next-door in Amherst. The feeling was mutual. They were attached to one another, and utterly loyal. There were no telephones then. Dickinson needed to 'talk' or at least - to write. Some of the letters - mere bits of writing - were on homely topics. I can guess with certainty that were they alive today, they would have thought nothing of communicating throughout the day via email. So we are all of us in good company.
My only mild gripe about this book is the use of the word "intimate" in the subtitle, and the unsubtle choice of the (chaste yet suggestive) photograph by Imogen Cunningham for the cover. This material probably doesn't need to be marketed that way. Dickinson devotees will read this book without the implied promise of sex, and those who don't read Dickinson will be disappointed if they are expecting heated-up correspondence, or in any way sexualized letters from Emily Dickinson to her best friend. These letters are passionate, sometimes playful, and sometimes pedestrian. One reads them for a window on the writer - who was "intimate" with life.
A thoroughly worthwhile read.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
The best thing about this book is that it gives us Dickinson's poems to her best friend, Sue, in the form they actually appear on the page. For most people, seeing the manuscripts of her poems is something that will never happen so Smith and Hart do their best to give us an idea of what Sue would have seen when she opened the envelopes. The review from the reader in the desert southwest has not read this book as it was meant to be read--as another way of reading and seeing. Hart and Smith do not suggest that theirs is the only way to read the letters/poems, they suggest that there's another way to read them that has not been the tradtional way of reading. My graduate students loved this book, as do I, because it offers a fresh perspective. Few Dickinson books in the last 10 years have been truly original and different. Anyone with a true interest in Dickinson, not the passing interest some reviews here suggest, will read this book in conjunction with other Dickinson studies and will achieve her/his own perspective of the poet. Smith and Hart give us some wonderful ideas to ponder, whether or not we agree with them is not the point. The point is that we exercise our intellect and think.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gulliver Foyle on November 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
As most of you know, the Sue-Mabel controversy began virtually at ED's death (Vinnie gave Sue first shot at editing ED's poems, then turned the job over to Mabel when Sue couldn't come through) and continues to this day, one of the most fascinating things in literary history. Sue and Mabel, and their respective daughters, were in a bitter competition to publish the ED poems in their control and to preserve their "place" in ED's history. In 1966, Sewall's ground-breaking ED biography primarily relied on the Mabel side for information, so a negative picture of Sue was created. The recent Habegger biography relied on the Sue side, and a more humane picture of Sue came out.

"Open Me Carefully" comes down firmly on the Sue side of the great divide, arguing for a much greater role in ED's life and work than heretofore granted Sue (though I don't think the author's views are quite as revolutionary as the authors claim). A lot of axes are ground here, and frankly, I disagreed with many of their conclusions. I don't think they took sufficient account of Sewall's point that ED presented a different "face" to each of her correspondents (though, as in so much else, Habegger disagrees), nor evaluated in a balanced way the similar or even greater passion ED brought in her correspondence to Bowles, Higginson, Lord, and others. There really is very little evidence that Sue (herself a rather mediocre poet) had any significant impact on ED's stunning style and insight.

Nonetheless, I gave it five stars for its presentation and its excellent explication of an argument that, while I don't agree with it, should be evaluated by all interested ED students.
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