Emily Dickinson's Life
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a well known family. Her grandfather helped to found Amherst College and her father, a lawyer, served for numerous years in the Massachusetts legislature and in the United States Congress. Dickinson had a one year older brother and a three years younger sister.
As a young girl and teenager Dickinson acquired many friends, some lasting a lifetime, received approval and attention from her father, and behaved fittingly for a girl during the Victorian era. She received a classical education from the Amherst Academy and was required by her father to read the Bible. Though she attended church regularly only for a few years, her Christian foundation remained strong throughout her life.
Dickinson attended nearby Mount Holyoke College for only one year, due to numerous reasons, and then was brought back home by her brother, Austin. The Dickinson family lived in a home overlooking the town's cemetery, where she is buried, for a few years before moving into the home her grandfather had built, called "The Homestead."
At home in Amherst, Dickinson became a capable housekeeper, cook, and gardener. She attended local events, became friends with some of her fathers' acquaintances, and read a number of books given to her by her friends and her brother. Most books had to be smuggled into the home for fear that her father would disapprove of them.
Emily Dickinson enjoyed the writings of an impressive list of contemporaries such as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. She also read from the Victorians, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot, and the Romantic poet Lord Byron. She also loved "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens. When she discovered Shakespeare she asked, "Why is any other book needed?" In her home she hung portraits of Eliot, Browning, and Carlyle.
Dickinson grew more reclusive into the 1850's. She began writing poems and received favorable response from her friends. Throughout the rest of her life she adopted the friendly practice of giving poems to her friends and bouquets of flowers from her garden. Her garden was so varied and well-cared that she was better known as a gardener than a poet.
During the Civil War years of the early 1860's, Emily Dickinson wrote more than 800 poems, the most prolific writing period of her life. During this period Dickinson saw the death of several friends, a teacher, and the declining health of her mother who she had to tend closely. These unhappy events saddened Dickinson and led her to treat the subject of death in many of her poems.
Following the Civil War and for the remaining 20 years of her life, Dickinson rarely left the property limits of The Homestead. Her father, mother, and sister Lavinia all lived with her at home, and her brother lived next door at The Evergreens with his wife, Susan, a longtime friend to Emily, and their children. She enjoyed the company of her family and wrote often to her friends, but residents of Amherst only knew her as the "woman in white" when they infrequently saw her greeting visitors.
After several friends, a nephew, and her parents died, Dickinson wrote fewer and fewer poems and stopped organizing them, as she had been doing for many years. She wrote that, "the dyings have been too deep for me." Dickinson developed a kidney disease which she suffered from for the remaining two years of her life. The final short letter that she wrote to her cousins read, "Little Cousins, Called Back. Emily."
Garry Gamber is a public school teacher and entrepreneur. He writes articles about politics, real estate, home businesses, poetry, and books. He is the National Director of Good Politics Radio and the owner of The Dating Advisor.com.