Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Dickinson, living a reclusive social life, led an inner life of intense, imaginative creativity that made her one of America’s greatest poets.
The sparse facts of Emily Elizabeth Dickinson’s external life can be summarized in a few sentences: She was born in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, spent her entire life in her family home, and died in it on May 15, 1886. She was graduated from Amherst Academy in 1847, then attended nearby Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for one year. She traveled occasionally to Springfield and twice to Boston. In 1854, she and her family visited Washington and Philadelphia. She never married and had no romantic relationships. Yet her interior life was so intense that a distinguished twentieth century poet and critic, Allen Tate, could write, “All pity for Miss Dickinson’s ‘starved life’ is misdirected. Her life was one of the richest and deepest ever lived on this continent.” It is a life which has proved a perplexing puzzle to many critics and biographers.
What led to Dickinson’s monastic seclusion from society? Was it forced on her by a possessive, despotic father? Was it self-willed by her timid temperament, by rejected love, or by her neurotic need for utmost privacy while she pursued the muse of poetry? Speculation abounds, certainty eludes; nothing is simple and direct about her behavior. Perhaps the opening...
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Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, the second daughter of Edward and Emily (Norcross) Dickinson. Her family was well established in the community, her grandfather having been one of the founders of Amherst College and her father having served in both state and federal Congresses. For most of her life, however, Dickinson shunned public life, preferring to detach herself from society and focus, instead, on her writing.
As a child, Dickinson was educated at home, mostly under the guidance of her father, who heavily censored her subject matter in fear that some books might lead her away from his religious beliefs, which he demanded that his daughter accept without argument. Her father must have been torn between recognizing her intellectual curiosity and wanting to control her thoughts, for he bought her books, then hid them after showing them to her, telling her he was concerned that the books might shake her thoughts.
Although Dickinson went on to attend both the Amherst Academy and Hadley Female Seminary (present-day Mount Holyoke College), she did not receive a degree. Her accomplishments in school, however, were famous; her intelligence, her imagination, and her ability to write dazzled many of her teachers. Shortly upon completing her first year of college in 1848, she returned to her family home and remained there until her death, venturing out for only occasional trips.
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
One can fully appreciate Dickinson’s originality only by placing her verse against that of her poet contemporaries. She is certainly more mystical—and is a better poet—than Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau. Her poetic works have greater substance than those of Edgar Allan Poe. She writes poems far richer in content than the school poets: James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The only American poet of her century with whom she is comparable is Walt Whitman.
In the nineteenth century, women generally wrote only domestic verse-material suitable for ladies’ magazines—or wrote under male pseudonyms. Higginson’s advice that Dickinson avoid publication makes most modern readers of Dickinson angry, as do the alterations made by Dickinson’s early editors. One can be grateful that Dickinson’s creative energy remained undiminished.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
“Renunciation is a piercing virtue,” wrote Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, and her life can be seen as a series of renunciations. Born in 1830 of a prominent Amherst family, she rarely left the town, except for time spent in Boston and trips to Washington and Philadelphia. She attended the Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Although she was witty and popular, she set herself apart from the other girls by her refusal to be converted to the conventional Christianity of the town. Her life was marked by a circle of close friends and of family: a stern and humorless father, a mother who suffered a long period of illness and whom Emily took care of; her sister Lavinia, who likewise never married and remained in the family home; and her brother Austin, who married Sue Gilbert Dickinson and whose forceful personality, like that of his wife, affected the family while Emily Dickinson lived, and whose affair with Mabel Todd, the editor of the poems, precipitated family squabbles that affected their publication.
Additionally, there was a series of men—for it almost seems that Dickinson took what she called her “preceptors” one at a time—who formed a sort of emotional resource for her. The first of these was Samuel Bowles, the editor of the neighboring Springfield, Massachusetts, Republican, which published some of her poetry. Charles Wadsworth was the minister of a Philadelphia church; a preacher famous for his eloquence, he preached...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Emily Dickinson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, was the daughter of Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Her father, a graduate of Yale College, practiced law in Amherst, engaged in politics, and was treasurer of Amherst College for thirty-seven years. After graduation from Amherst College and Harvard Law School, her brother, William Austin Dickinson, eldest of the three children, took up the practice of law in Amherst and succeeded his father in 1872 as college treasurer. At the time of Austin’s marriage in 1856 to Susan Gilbert, his father built the couple a house on land adjoining the family homestead. Both Emily Dickinson and her younger sister, Lavinia, remained single, living in the family home all their lives. A year after Edward Dickinson’s death in 1874, Emily Norcross Dickinson became paralyzed, and the sisters shared the task of caring for their invalid mother until her death in 1882. Thus Emily Dickinson throughout her life was intimately a part of the daily routines of all members of her family. The closeness of ties regulated the poet’s domestic existence.
Small in stature, with chestnut hair and brown eyes, Dickinson was remembered for her vivacity. Even as a girl her droll wit gave her singularity, and all her life she maintained an eager interest in people and books. During her youth on one or two...
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IntroductionKnown as “The Belle of Amherst,” Emily Dickinson is widely considered one of the most original American poets of the nineteenth century. She wrote hundreds of poems—most of which were not published until her death in 1886—in an unconventional style that revolutionized the genre and continues to challenge readers. Instead of traditional rhyme schemes and punctuation, Dickinson used broken meter, seemingly random capitalization, and numerous dashes to convey complex thoughts and emotions. And in a final break with poetic convention, the majority of her poems were untitled, although quite a few have become well-known by their first lines: “Because I could not stop for death,” “A narrow fellow in the grass,” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” The subjects of her poems ranged from the inevitability of death to the simple joys of the natural world, and their tone reflected what must have been Dickinson’s own complex emotional range: brooding and joyous, witty and sarcastic, morose and hopeful.
- Dickinson’s bedroom window faced toward a local cemetery in Amherst, Massachusetts. As a young girl, she observed burials on almost a daily basis.
- Dickinson attended a female seminary but left after one year. Speculations about the reasons for her departure include homesickness, poor health, and perhaps a refusal to sign a public confession of her faith in Christ.
- In 1864, Dickinson visited a doctor in Boston because of an eye condition. He forbade her to read or write. She would never again leave Amherst, but she did begin writing her first poems alone in her room at home.
- Both her father and grandfather were successful politicians in Massachusetts, and the Dickinson home frequently welcomed some of the most influential thinkers of the era, including Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- Dickinson’s sister, Lavinia, discovered hundreds of unpublished poems after Emily died. Lavinia hired editors to chronologically arrange and publish the work.
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Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, the second of three children to respectable, upper-middle- class Puritan parents. She would later describe her father as domineering and her mother as emotionally distant. Early on, she was a great admirer of and a great rival to her brother, Austin, born nearly two years previously. She was active, precocious, and strong-willed as a child. But in time, she would become increasingly sensitive, shy, and retiring.
After two years at Amherst Academy, Dickinson entered the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College), where she studied for one year until homesickness drove her home. Although only seventeen at the time, Dickinson quietly defied both official and peer pressure to experience a conversion to Christianity. Dickinson later admitted in a letter that she secretly worried that somehow she had willfully put herself beyond God’s grace by her rebellion.
Despite the brevity of her formal education, Dickinson voraciously read all of her father’s books and subscribed to the great literary journals of her time. In fact, her struggle with social Christendom may have actually propelled her into a quest for the sublime in literature. (This Romantic transference from orthodox Christianity to a worship of nature and the powers of the imagination has been described by M. H. Abrams in The Mirror and the Lamp.) By the late 1850s, Dickinson had...
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Like Shakespeare, whose poetry has become an integral part of world literature but whose personal life remains very much a matter of speculation, Emily Dickinson left behind very few clues about herself besides the wealth of poetry found only after her death. She was born Emily Elizabeth Dickinson on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, the second child of Edward and Emily Dickinson. Her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson (1775–1838), was a pillar of Amherst society, building the town’s first brick house and cofounding Amherst College; his son Edward (Emily’s father) served as the college’s treasurer for thirty-seven years. Edward also served for many years in the Massachusetts legislature and spent two years in the United States Congress in the House of Representatives.
Dickinson’s father was a stern, Puritanical man who sought to defend his children and church from the growing threat of radical ideas, among them New England transcendentalism, a philosophy set forth largely in the works of the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). In one of her many letters, Dickinson described her father with the words, “His Heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists.” Indeed, Edward Dickinson felt that women (his two daughters included) ought to stay at home and leave the running of the country to their husbands and brothers. Despite these seemingly provincial views, Edward did ensure that his daughters...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, the elder daughter of lawyer Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Dickinson was the second of three children, a year younger than her brother, William, and three years older than her sister, Lavinia. She was born in a large house built by her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson; except for absences of about a year for her schooling and seven months in Boston, she lived in it all of her life and died there at precisely 6:00 p.m. on May 15, 1886.
It is paradoxical that a woman who led such a circumscribed and apparently uneventful life managed to acquire the rich perceptions that enabled her to write 1,775 poems unlike any others in the English language. Every one is recognizably her own, and many are masterpieces. The circumstances of her life, therefore, hold a special fascination for readers of her verse.
Dickinson’s sharp perceptions and brilliant inner life arise primarily from her background. Her paternal grandfather, whom she never knew, remained an unseen presence in her family. A Trinitarian deacon educated at Dartmouth College, he became moderately prosperous through his legal practice, investments, and a number of appointive and elective government positions; he was also a visionary. His religious zeal led...
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Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830 and lived there all her life. Her grandfather was the founder of Amherst College, and her father Edward Dickinson was a lawyer who served as the treasurer of the college. He also held various political offices. Her mother Emily Norcross Dickinson was a quiet and frail woman. Dickinson went to primary school for four years and then attended Amherst Academy from 1840 to 1847 before spending a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Her education was strongly influenced by Puritan religious beliefs, but Dickinson did not accept the teachings of the Unitarian church attended by her family and remained agnostic throughout her life. Following the completion of her education, Dickinson lived in the family home with her parents and younger sister Lavinia, while her elder brother Austin and his wife Susan lived next door. She began writing verse at an early age, practicing her craft by rewriting poems she found in books, magazines, and newspapers. During a trip to Philadelphia in the early 1850s, Dickinson fell in love with a married minister, the Reverend Charles Wadsworth; her disappointment in love may have brought about her subsequent withdrawal from society. Dickinson experienced an emotional crisis of an undetermined nature in the early 1860s. Her traumatized state of mind is believed to have inspired her to write prolifically: in 1862 alone she is thought to have composed over three hundred poems. In that same year,...
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