She may seem a curious choice for teenage devotion. Many might think of Emily Dickinson as someone locked away from the world, a spinster living and writing in her bedroom as if she were in a self-made prison. In a way, though, many teens are reclusive just like this. Uncertain and a little afraid of the approaching world of adulthood, it seems safer to many to keep to oneself.
Except – it turns out that Emily Dickinson wasn’t quite like this. A new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York is encouraging a different perspective on the poet. The curator of the show, Carolyn Vega, told the BBC that while it is true that Dickinson liked to keep herself to herself, she also took a great interest in life beyond the front door of her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts.
According to Vega, Dickinson was deeply connected to her world through family, friendships, and literary mentors and editors. She also read many books and was aware of the political realities that were going on around her, including the American Civil War.
Another expert gives us a clue into the appeal of Dickinson’s poems to the young. Cassandra Atherton, an Australian academic, fell in love with the writer’s work as a teenager. “Emily Dickinson was my poster girl,” she told the BBC. Atherton took it so far as to model her teenage look on the only known photograph of Dickinson. She would arrive at school dressed in white and her hair tied in a tight bun. She identified with the poet as a fellow outsider.
The title of the New York exhibition, “I’m nobody! Who are you?”, from one of her poems, tells us a little about Dickinson’s approach to life and writing. She seemed to have thought, “The less I am to myself, the more interesting the world will become.” And when reading a large proportion (比例) of the 1,800 poems she wrote, the world seems just like that – a place we thought we knew, but which Dickinson represents to us in a brand new way.