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Customer Review

18 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Open me not, June 6, 2005
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This review is from: Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson (Paperback)
Most of Emily Dickinson's letters have been public for a very long time and have been the center of a debate that started just after her death in 1886. The debate has been between two major factions: 1) Emily's sister-in-law, Sue Dickinson and her children, 2) Mabel Loomis Todd, Emily's brother Austin's mistress of 13 years (Emily's brother Austin, was Sue's husband) and Mabel's children (and the relatives of the above mentioned and their descendants!)

Mabel Loomis Todd was 26 years younger than Sue and was the mistress of Sue's husband and Emily's brother, Austin. There was no love lost between Mabel and Sue. Mabel's knowledge of Emily came mostly from Austin with whom she was intimate for 13 years, and from Emily's poems and letters. Austin was very close to his sister, Emily during all of his life. (He lived next door to her with his wife Sue.) Mabel never met Emily face to face but by then Emily saw no one except old, trusted friends and was considered a recluse in Amherst.

"Open Me Carefully" comes down on the Sue side of the debate and discounts Mabel and Austin's point of view. (The authors refer to Austin and Mabel's affair only once, in passing, in the Introduction: "[Sue was] distracted by the loss [death] of Emily and by her husband's flagrant (my emphasis) affair with Mabel Loomis Todd...") But there is very little discussion of the different scholarly views and opinions of Emily's emotional life and even though there is an impressive number of footnotes at the end of the book, there is little evidence of scholarship in the book itself except for smoke that seems to rise from scholarly fires burning elsewhere.

The authors' introductory text strongly implies that Emily's feelings for Sue were sexual, even though the authors don't state this explicitly and never use the word 'lesbian.' For example on the first page of Section I, we are told "The letters from Emily to Susan and drafts of letters from Susan indicate that Susan is the object of passionate attachment for both brother and sister." On the second page of Section II we read: "These 'Dollie' (Sue's nickname) poems are deeply romantic and erotic..." In the Introduction we are told "The ardor of Dickinson's late teens and early twenties matured and deepened over the decades and the romantic and erotic expression from Emily to Susan continued until Dickinson's death in May 1886." In addition, the title of the book and the picture on its cover imply that Sue and Emily were related erotically or, dare I say, sexually?

The burden of "Open Me Carefully" should be to demonstrate that Emily and Sue had a life-long 'lesbian muse' relationship not simply to tell us they had one. Also, this book should not include any letters or poems that cannot be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" to have been sent to Sue or intended for her. If consensus cannot be arrived at within the community of Dickinson scholars this fact should be clearly stated.

I should add that I think it is certainly possible that the theses of the book are true. I just don't believe that they have been proved or even demonstrated to be probably true.

Emily's letters and poems rate five stars but this arrangement of them isn't convincing and the extent of Sue's influence on Emily remains uncertain.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 6, 2015 11:12:09 AM PDT
Jessica says:
the extent of sue's influence remains uncertain? are you kidding?

First, let's be clear....Emily Dickinson being a "recluse" is a common misconception that has time and time again been disproven. She was not a recluse who wore all white and had a depressing demeanor. She was instead very vibrant in humour and charm..very personable. It wasn't until later years that she remained indoors for most of the time, mostly in support of her FRIEND SUSAN being depressed due to loss of child and loss of marriage (her husband cheating).
As for the book implying that lesbian tendencies, this couldn't be more untrue. The relationship and friendships of women back in that time was openly close and these times, since we are so intune with appearance, many would mistake the relationships as lesbian in nature. No. Just very close, very intimate, very personable...boardline romantic in loyalty and written corespondence. Emily had many male suitors. Emily and Susan were just very close. Could they have been more? Maybe...but no one is implying that (maybe me, because that would be awesome)..going off of just facts, no one can state that accurately, and this book certainly doesn't do that.

Susan was very close with Emily...and there is tangible proof of this. This book is just one of many that I have of the relationships with Emily and people...and it's beautifully executed.
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