18 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Open me not
, June 6, 2005
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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