CLOSE
getty images
getty images

Emily Dickinson: Scandalous Spinster?

getty images
getty images

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 Though she became more and more socially withdrawn as an adult (for example, she refused to go downstairs for her father's funeral, preferring to listen through the door), Emily seems to have fallen in love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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
gutenberg.org
arrow
literature
10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers
iStock
iStock

In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at Landingpages.nyc and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios