Study Guide

The Diary of Emily Dickinson

by Jamie Fuller

The Diary of Emily Dickinson Essay - Critical Essays

The Diary of Emily Dickinson

The bare facts of Emily Dickinson’s life are well known: This lifelong resident of Amherst, Massachusetts was born in 1830 into a prominent family, became a dutiful daughter, traveled little, withdrew from the world in middle age, and died at the age of fifty-six of Bright’s disease. In that relatively brief, outwardly mundane life, she created some of the most lauded poems in American literature. Yet questions about that life and the poems that it produced continue to tease scholars. THE DIARY OF EMILY DICKINSON aims to answer some of those questions—and raise many more.

According to Fuller’s scenario, she has acquired the diary from a man whose father found it during renovations in the Dickinson homestead. Beginning in March, 1867, and ending in April, 1868, the diary charts a year in Dickinson’s life about which little is known. Fuller has clearly done her homework. The diary effectively captures nineteenth century American life: the exhausting domestic demands made upon women, small-town pressures, and Emily’s ambivalent relationship with men in a man’s world. Fuller is particularly adept at evoking the poet’s curious connection with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a bewildered literary mentor whose advice Emily both seeks and rejects. The diary also reveals a tragic father/daughter relationship, with Emily unable to approach the remote, duty-bound Edward with her prized poems.

Fuller, however, does more than just fill in the missing pieces in a famous poet’s life. By employing scholarly notes as part of her format, she skillfully dovetails the known details of Emily’s life with the “facts” of the diary entries. Even more impressive are the twenty-five “new” poems that Fuller presents as Dickinson’s own. They are convincingly written in Emily’s style and complement the actual poetry and correspondence. Fuller’s work sheds a fascinating—if only speculative—light on the inner life of a great poet.