The Dickinson Feud

show. Martha could be described adequately by calling her a reader; Mrs. Dickinson was a scholar. I once expressed my amazement at the difficult reading I found on her library table. "It's a conviction of mine," she said, "that two women who live alone, with no man in the house, should keep near them something tough, to get their teeth into."

Martha had less than her mother's social charm, being in that respect all Dickinson. She had also in full measure the Dickinson strength of will and eccentricity. But in conversation she had her mother's genius. Emily could write but she was not much of a talker. On occasion, it is said, she made profound remarks, but what the occasions were, and what the remarks, and who heard them, is imperfectly recorded. I doubt if any other person so inarticulate ever achieved so much fame as a poet. Her niece Martha, on the other hand, though she wished to write, had no gift for it, but she was one of the most stimulation talkers I ever met. She was curiously observant, and her reflections on what she observed were unconventional and unforgettable.

Both these women were dear friends of mine, and I honor their memory. As the Dickinson feud grew and gathered venom, the admirers of Mrs. Todd have dealt unjustly with Mrs. Dickinson, "Susan," and they can hardly be excused by the fact that few of them had the privilege of knowing her. She was cultured, intelligent, and kind. In gifts of mind, and rather obviously in gifts of heart, she was superior to her detractors. Their envy and jealousy can be understood. In the scramble to exploit the dead Emily, Susan had the misfortune to be in the way. To get at Emily's poems Mabel vamped Austin, leaving to posterity in excuse some poisonous hints that his wife didn't deserve him.

After Susan's death in 1912, Martha began getting out new volumes of Emily's poems, at first singlehanded, later with the collaboration of her friend, Alfred Leete Hampson. Admirers of Mrs. Todd thought that these instalments of Emily were less well edited than those which Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson had presided over, but we now know from Ancestors' Brocades that the liberties taken with Emily's text by her first editors might be thought excessive, and Martha Bianchi, at her death, willed away the manuscripts in her possession, so that it is impossible at present for scholars to form an opinion as to the accuracy of any edition. In the years through which I followed the course of the feud, while at Amherst and afterward, the motives on both sides seemed natural and rather pathetic. From all that has been disclosed

image | previous page | next page | search the archives

  Critical Materials Main Menu
Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
Maintained by Lara Vetter <>
Last updated on March 10, 2008

Dickinson Electronic Archives