Quantcast

Web Letters | The Nation

More on Emily Dickinson

I highly recommend that you review another definitive work about Emily Dickinson. Aife Murray's book Maid As Muse is not about Dickinson family feuds but rather on those who by their labor enabled her to write. It focuses on the domestic servants of the Dickinson household, their relationships to the poet and their impact on her work. Reviewing Maid as Muse would be an excellent way to follow up on this excellent article.

Judith Utevsky

Madison, WI

Jul 3 2010 - 1:17am

Dickinson and her servants

Thank you for that thoughtful essay/review. If, as Mr. Longenbach says, "Most of the details of Dickinson's family life are well-known" then why haven't Emily Dickinson's servants, who were so much a part of the poet's everyday "reclusive" life at home, been discussed with much seriousness? Your readers might want to take a look at Maid as Muse: how servants changed Emily Dickinson's life and language.

Emily Dickinson spent many hours writing in her kitchen, in between baking and gardening. The people with whom she spoke daily were her maid, gardener, stable hand and other laborers, in addition to her immediate family. She may have been a recluse from her well-to-do peers but not from the laboring poor of the town: Irish immigrants, African-Americans, English immigrants, Native Americans and poor white Yankees. Their active presence in her life gives new meaning to Dickinson's lines like "thanks for the Ethiopian Face" that Mr. Longenbach discusses in his review.

Emily Dickinson stored her poems in her maid's trunk and asked her maid, Margaret Maher, to burn the poems after Emily died. Fortunately, Margaret Maher defied that deathbed oath. Dickinson's self-scripted funeral—that self-authored final narrative—tells us more about her life than any written note she could have left. To the shock of her family and neighbors, she requested six Irish Catholic laborers—the Dickinson family's current and former gardeners, handyman and stablemen—for the honor of pallbearers. Whom might the poet have been including with the lines: "The Soul selects her own Society — / Then — shuts the Door — "?

Aife Murray

San Francisco, CA

Jun 30 2010 - 12:46pm

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.