As is well
known, Emily Dickinson printed few of her own poems, choosing instead
to publish her work by circulating copies to friends and family.
After her death, her sister, Lavinia, discovered literally hundreds
of poems in Emily's room. Determined to have them published, she
searched for an editor. Susan Dickinson, one of Emily's most
influential readers, immediately began work on editing an inclusive
volume of poetry, wanting to present a "full, and varied"
volume of Dickinson's works, one that would include "letters,
humorous writings, illustrations" (Smith
and Hart xvi). However, at the time the more marketable image of
Emily Dickinson was that of the nineteenth century
"poetess," the "eccentric, reclusive asexual woman in
white," which was not the image Susan seemed concerned to
produce (Hart and Smith xv).
And, as she felt Susan was moving too slowly anyway, Lavinia turned
the manuscripts over to Mabel Loomis Todd, with whom Susan's husband
(Austin Dickinson) had had a years' long affair, and Thomas W.
Higginson, one of Emily's main correspondents. Todd and Higginson
published the first volume of Dickinson's poems, Poems
by Emily Dickinson,
in 1890, to the disappointment of Susan. They had divided the poems
into popular themes, such as "Love," "Nature,"
"Life," "Time & Eternity"prim
categories that helped to establish the myth of Dickinson as "a
recluse by temperament and habit," Higginson's words in the
introduction. Meanwhile, Susan published manuscripts of her own in
journals and continued to compile her manuscripts for a complete
volume of her own.
was a success, and the co-editors began work on a second volume
(1891), and Todd produced a third volume without the assistance of
Higginson (1896). She also published an edition of letters in 1894. A
break between Lavinia and Todd, however, put an end to the
collaboration, and Lavinia continued to print on her own, in
periodicals. She died in 1899, and the manuscripts were passed on to
her niece, Martha Dickinson. Martha Dickinson Bianchi published
Susan's collection of her own manuscripts in 1914 in The
and in a 1915 Atlantic
article. She rearranged Todd's Letters and added biographical
accounts in her 1924 The
Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson.
Also in 1924 she combined the poems found in the three Todd-Higginson
volumes with her own work and published The
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.
But this appellation proved too hasty: she subsequently found more
manuscript material and released two further installments, Further
Poems of Emily Dickinson (1929)
Poems of Emily Dickinson (1935).
an expanded biography combined with poetry and letters, was
published in 1932. Bianchi and her co-editor, Alfred Leete Hampson,
have been disparaged for what other editors call sloppy work, but
Ralph Franklin admits it is "deserving of serious study" (Variorum 5)
and Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart also treat her as an
editor with a serious mission, giving her credit where other editors
Mabel Loomis Todd and her daughter also brought out further volumes,
publishing an expanded volume of Letters.
After Bianchi's death, Millicent Todd Bingham published Ancestors'
Brocades: The Literary Debut of Emily Dickinson
(1945) and Bolts
(1945), which contained hundreds of new poems.
beginning of her history as a poet, Emily Dickinson has drawn readers
attracted to the details of her life as well as her poetry. As early
an editor as Bianchi felt that part of her responsibility was to
correct the misinformation that had already spread about the
"weird recluse" that people saw Dickinson as. Bianchi also
notes that many of Dickinson's early fans insisted on "some
actual recreation of her as a woman in her own setting-no mere
collection of reputed eccentricities or collated husks of fact from
the outside. . . . The demand for the personal Emily became difficult
to ignore" (Face
to Face xii-xiii).
Indeed, the "demand for the personal Emily" continues
today. What's more, the way Dickinson the woman has been seen has
profoundly influenced the way she has been seen as a poet; her poetry
has conformed to her editors' ideas of her biography. This practice
has continued with her modern editors, who seem just as interested as
their predecessors in uncovering the "real" Emily
Dickinson, as the discussions about each editor in this website will show.
deaths of Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Millicent Todd Bingham, both
family lines ended. Bianchi sold her manuscripts to Harvard
University, and Bingham gave hers to Amherst College. At this time,
Thomas H. Johnson prepared a new edition from both sets of
manuscripts, publishing The
Poems of Emily Dickinson
in 1955. From this he published The
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
(1960), choosing the principal representations of the manuscript
drafts, and selections from Complete
are in Final
(1962). Working with Theodora Ward, Johnson also produced The
Letters of Emily Dickinson
in 1958, in which he published all of the known letters and prose
fragments. Johnson's work was, and continues to be, of major
Franklin, another major Dickinson editor, published The
Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson,
which is a set of facsimile reproductions of the fascicles (1980),
providing, for the first time, access to a select group of the
manuscripts. This work also attempts to restructure the fascicles
into their original order, not their chronological order, as Johnson
presents them. In 1986 Franklin produced The
Master Letters of Emily Dickinson,
a set of "letters," whether fictional or autobiographical,
addressed to a "Master." Much speculation as to the
Master's identity has fueled Dickinson circles, perhaps giving undue
significance to the works. In a major new publication, Franklin
produced a The
Poems of Emily Dickinson, Variorum Edition
in 1998, representing all the drafts and manuscripts available.
Working from manuscripts, Franklin gives a "comprehensive
account" of Dickinson's oeuvre and her editors.
Marta Werner published Open
Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing,
in which she challenges the masculine interpretation of Dickinson's
1870s textual context. In another feminist interpretation, in 1998
Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith produced Open
Emily Dickinson's Intimate letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson,
which follows in the vein of Bianchi's The
a compilation of some of Dickinson's Susan correspondence. Open
ranges from prose letters to poetry to what Hart and Smith identify
as "letter poems." The editors attempt to retain as much of
Dickinson's graphic quality as possible, keeping her original line
breaks and attempting to reproduce her unusual punctuation as closely
as possible in print.
work was begun on the Dickinson Electronic Archives, a comprehensive
website designed to give access to digital reproductions of
Dickinson's manuscripts. The editorial collective, consisting of
Martha Nell Smith, Ellen Louise Hart, and Marta Werner, hopes to
facilitate research into Dickinson as a graphocentric poet, one who
was concerned with the layout of the actual page she wrote on. The
site includes reproductions of Dickinson's manuscripts, and many of
Susan Dickinson's texts as well, among other items. It is an on-going
project and invites collaboration.
1950s, Dickinson scholarship has remained a vibrant, active field,
with new developments each decade. As additional editions of her work
are published, previous ones do not become obsolete; on the contrary,
each one can be taken as another interpretation of Dickinson's
sometimes cryptic but always engaging work.