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Emily Dickinson: Scandalous Spinster?

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In 1882, a young bride new to Amherst, Massachusetts asked her neighbor about the mysterious sisters who lived next door. "You will not allow your husband to go there, I hope," said the neighbor. "I went in there one day, and in the drawing room I found Emily reclining in the arms of a man. What can you say to that?" The spinster neighbors, the gossip continued, "[had not], either of them, any idea of morality." 

Intriguing stuff for Victorian New England—and even more intriguing considering that the woman getting it on was Emily Dickinson, a poet often painted as virginal and antisocial. But the story of Emily's love life is more complicated than a forbidden moment on a divan. It involves a family feud, flirtatious letters, and probably a bit of making out.

Scholars have long puzzled over the romantic dichotomy presented by Emily's seemingly reclusive existence and her passionate poetry. True, Emily became more mysterious and secluded as she got older, but she also led a social, if sheltered, life. That extended to romantic relationships, too: Recent scholarship seems to point to a thwarted engagement with George Gould, who became a lifelong friend. And historians have asked themselves whether Emily's close female friendships were platonic or sexual. In fact, one of Emily's rumored hook-ups may have been her sister-in-law Sue—the very woman who warned her neighbor about Emily's wayward behavior. 

But the web of Emily's wild nights doesn't end there. Though she became more and more socially withdrawn as an adult (for example, she refused to go downstairs for her father's funeral, preferring to listen through the door), Emily seems to have fallen in love again in her mid-forties. This time, her lover was Otis Lord, a prominent judge and a close friend of her father's. During her father's life, she could never have openly pursued Lord. Freed by her father's death, the two seem to have deepened their relationship. Soon after Lord's wife died, Emily was writing him letters like this:

Dont you know you are happiest while I withhold and not confer—dont you know that "No" is the wildest word we consign to Language?

And this

While others go to Church, I go to mine, for are you not my Church, and have we not a Hymn that no one knows but us? 

But despite Lord's long visits, despite Emily's apparent desire to marry him, even despite Lord's passionate overtures and the "heavenly hours" they spent together in the parlor, a marriage never came to pass. Perhaps Lord's niece and heir discouraged her uncle from making it official. (The niece, Abbie Farley, was even more spiteful than Sue when it came to describing Emily Dickinson—she preferred phrases like "little hussy," "loose morals," and "crazy about men.") Perhaps Emily refused to cross the line due to epilepsy or another illness. Or did Sue, hurt by Emily's neglect, spread more rumors about her sister-in-law's morality to prevent the match? 

If she did, it came back to bite her: The young bride whom she had warned away became fascinated with the Dickinson family in the end—so fascinated that she became Emily's literary champion after her death ... and seduced Sue's husband as part the bargain. Now, over a century later, it seems easier to paint the "virgin recluse" woman-in-white brush. Perhaps we'd do better to chuck out our misperception of Emily as shy spinster and envision her as a self-assured lover instead—unashamedly Rowing in Eden—/Ah! the sea!/Might I but moor—/Tonight in thee! 

Sources: Thinking Musically, Writing Expectantly: New Biographical Information about Emily Dickinson; Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds; "Emily Dickinson's Love Life," via The Emily Dickinson Museum); A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade; Emily Dickinson; Emily Dickinson Electronic Archives

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Tracing Vladimir Nabokov's 1941 Cross-Country Road Trip, One Butterfly at a Time
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Vladimir Nabokov is most famous as a writer, but the Russian scribe was also an amateur—yet surprisingly accomplished—lepidopterist. Nabokov first began collecting butterflies as a child, and after moving to the U.S. in 1940 he began volunteering in the Lepidoptera collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

The following year, the author took a cross-country road trip, driving 4000 miles from Pennsylvania to California. Along the way, he stopped at kitschy roadside motels, which provided atmospheric fodder for his 1955 novel Lolita. Nabokov also collected hundreds of butterfly samples at these rest stops, most of which he ended up donating to the AMNH.

Nabokov would go on to publish multiple scientific papers on lepidoptery—including the definitive scholarly study of the genus Lycaeides, or the “blues”—and produce perhaps thousands of delicate butterfly drawings. Multiple butterfly species were also named after him, including Nabokov’s wood nymph.

In the AMNH’s 360-degree video below, you can trace the author's 1941 cross-country road trip state-by-state, see some of the specimens he collected, and learn how museum curators are using his westward journey to better understand things like species distribution and migration patterns.

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11 Popular Quotes Commonly Misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald
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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a lot of famous lines, from musings on failure in Tender is the Night to “so we beat on, boats against the current” from The Great Gatsby. Yet even with a seemingly never-ending well of words and beautiful quotations, many popular idioms and phrases are wrongly attributed to the famous Jazz Age author. Here are 11 popular phrases that are often misattributed to Fitzgerald. (You may need to update your Pinterest boards.)

1. “WRITE DRUNK, EDIT SOBER.”

This quote is often attributed to either Fitzgerald or his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, who died in 1961. There is no evidence in the collected works of either writer to support that attribution; the idea was first associated with Fitzgerald in a 1996 Associated Press story, and later in Stephen Fry’s memoir More Fool Me. In actuality, humorist Peter De Vries coined an early version of the phrase in a 1964 novel titled Reuben, Reuben.

2. “FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE OR, IN MY CASE, TOO EARLY TO BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE.”

It’s easy to see where the mistake could be made regarding this quote: Fitzgerald wrote the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 1922 for Collier's Magazine, and it was adapted into a movie of the same name, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, in 2008. Eric Roth wrote the screenplay, in which that quotation appears.

3. “OUR LIVES ARE DEFINED BY OPPORTUNITIES, EVEN THE ONES WE MISS.”

This is a similar case to the previous quotation; this quote is attributed to Benjamin Button’s character in the film adaptation. It’s found in the script, but not in the original short story.

4. “YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHY STORMS ARE NAMED AFTER PEOPLE.”

There is no evidence that Fitzgerald penned this line in any of his known works. In this Pinterest pin, it is attributed to his novel The Beautiful and Damned. However, nothing like that appears in the book; additionally, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Association, although there were a few storms named after saints, and an Australian meteorologist was giving storms names in the 19th century, the practice didn’t become widespread until after 1941. Fitzgerald died in 1940.

5. “A SENTIMENTAL PERSON THINKS THINGS WILL LAST. A ROMANTIC PERSON HAS A DESPERATE CONFIDENCE THAT THEY WON’T.”

This exact quote does not appear in Fitzgerald’s work—though a version of it does, in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise:

“No, I’m romantic—a sentimental person thinks things will last—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t. Sentiment is emotional.” The incorrect version is widely circulated and requoted.

6. “IT’S A FUNNY THING ABOUT COMING HOME. NOTHING CHANGES. EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, FEELS THE SAME, EVEN SMELLS THE SAME. YOU REALIZE WHAT’S CHANGED IS YOU.”

This quote also appears in the 2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button script, but not in the original short story.

7. “GREAT BOOKS WRITE THEMSELVES; ONLY BAD BOOKS HAVE TO BE WRITTEN.”

There is no evidence of this quote in any of Fitzgerald’s writings; it mostly seems to circulate on websites like qotd.org, quotefancy.com and azquotes.com with no clarification as to where it originated.

8. “SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, BUT NOT LIKE THOSE GIRLS IN THE MAGAZINES. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE WAY SHE THOUGHT. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE SPARKLE IN HER EYES WHEN SHE TALKED ABOUT SOMETHING SHE LOVED. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR HER ABILITY TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE SMILE, EVEN IF SHE WAS SAD. NO, SHE WASN’T BEAUTIFUL FOR SOMETHING AS TEMPORARY AS HER LOOKS. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, DEEP DOWN TO HER SOUL.”

This quote may have originated in a memoir/advice book published in 2011 by Natalie Newman titled Butterflies and Bullshit, where it appears in its entirety. It was attributed to Fitzgerald in a January 2015 Thought Catalog article, and was quoted as written by an unknown source in Hello, Beauty Full: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You by Elisa Morgan, published in September 2015. However, there’s no evidence that Fitzgerald said or wrote anything like it.

9. “AND IN THE END, WE WERE ALL JUST HUMANS, DRUNK ON THE IDEA THAT LOVE, ONLY LOVE, COULD HEAL OUR BROKENNESS.”

Christopher Poindexter, the successful Instagram poet, wrote this as part of a cycle of poems called “the blooming of madness” in 2013. After a Twitter account called @SirJayGatsby tweeted the phrase with no attribution, it went viral as being attributed to Fitzgerald. Poindexter has addressed its origin on several occasions.

10. “YOU NEED CHAOS IN YOUR SOUL TO GIVE BIRTH TO A DANCING STAR.”

This poetic phrase is actually derived from the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900, just four years after Fitzgerald was born in 1896. In his book Thus Spake ZarathustraNietzsche wrote the phrase, “One must have chaos within to enable one to give birth to a dancing star.” Over time, it’s been truncated and modernized into the currently popular version, which was included in the 2009 book You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career by Katharine Brooks.

11. “FOR THE GIRLS WITH MESSY HAIR AND THIRSTY HEARTS.”

This quote is the dedication in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s book Tiger Lily, a reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan. While it is often attributed to Anderson, many Tumblr pages and online posts cite Fitzgerald as its author.

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