From book to film: and cinema discovered a different Emily Dickinson

The screen, large and small, favored Emily Dickinson, the great American poet. In recent years, the television series have been produced Dickinson (2019), the movie A Quiet Passion (2016), finally Wild Nights with Emily Dickinsonstill in theaters. Truly a great deal of attention for this lady born in 1803 in Ambers, Massachusetts. Still a student, she decides to leave college for not being a Christian. From that moment on, she will live in her paternal home, increasingly reducing her visits to the outside world and dedicating herself to writing and, in particular, to poetry. The only escapes in the world, a trip to Washington and a few stays in Boston and Philadelphia. The images that have come down to us show a sad face without prospects, like a hopeless spinster. But they are false images.

Hailee Steinfeld in the series ‘Dickinson’. Photo: Apple TV+

Emily wrote of herself: «I have no recent portraits, but I’m as small as a wren, my hair is as bold as a chestnut hedgehog and my eyes are the color of the sherry that the guest leaves at the bottom of the glass». Emily was a sad soul, complex and endowed with a particular grace, capable of reading the present and also the future of her country. She is considered the greatest American poet. Spending her life within the walls of her home, isolated, in contact only with her own creativity was a defense and an exploration for her. From her closed place she understood and told the intellectual and moral drama of America, anticipating history, thanks to a unique and innovative style in terms of metrics and lexicon. You have explored major themes such as love, death, nature that is not your friend, the encounter with an absent God.

He wrote 1775 poems of which only seven were published while he was alive. Publishing, he wrote, was as alien to the thought of him as the firmament to a fish. But, immediately after his death, editions of his poems and letters followed one another with great success, contested among the heirs. Dickinson is part of what is called the “American Renaissance”, his referents were called Emerson and Hawthorne, from whom he took inspirations which he then developed through a powerful vision all of him. A Dickinson lyric is like a tablet that you put in a glass of water and after a few seconds it expands until it almost explodes. It was her way of telling about her, a metaphor, a synthesis which then had to be resolved by the reader.

The image of the poet that has spread and crystallized over the decades is therefore that of a prolific author but closed in on herself and indifferent to any sentimental relationship. But, in Wild Nights with Emily Dickinson, Madeleine Olnek director and Molly Shannon actress tell the writer in a decidedly different light. The focus is on the relationship that she had over the years with her friend Susan Gilbert, who later became her sister-in-law. Olnek has certainly shown courage, proposing to the public an icon of poetry in a light that is certainly unexpected by most. The material was procured by a 1998 investigation of the New York Times who discovered how Susan’s name, in letters written by Emily, had been forged. Special software allowed that name to reappear. The letters revealed an intense love relationship.

But the discovery of Madeleine Olnek changes little or nothing, and certainly doesn’t compromise the universal charm we owe to the lonely soul of Massachusetts. A lightning-fast synthesis, in her style, Emily granted by saying, “Consider me a domestic soul, how wild.” A few verses are in order: «Water is taught by thirst / The earth, by crossed eyes / Joy, by pain / Peace, by tales of battles / Love, by an imprint of memory / Birds, by snow ».

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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