Mrs. Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, widow of William Austin Dickinson, died at her home, the Evergreens, in Amherst yesterday, in her 83rd year, from heart disease. She had been seriously ill for a number of weeks, and for several days her life has been slowly, peacefully fading away. She was a woman of rare quality and truly a distinguished citizen of the town, who had made her home for many years one of the notable features of the community. She had undoubtedly entertained at her board more men and women of distinction in the world of literature and affairs than any other householder in the place. She had lived in Amherst from the time of her marriage in 1857 [sic; 1856], with the exception of seven winters which were passed in New York, and several long periods of travel and residence abroad. [Among the papers found in the Evergreens is a journal Susan kept of a trip to Europe in the early 1900s, when she was seventy-five years old. As an elderly traveller and inveterate writer, Susan visited Paris, Nice, Cologne, Zurich, Verona, Venice, Florence, Rome, the Hague, and London, revelling in the architectural majesty of church buildings and in the sublime beauty of the "Alpine peaks snow tipped. . .all so wholesome after Paris" and taking care to record her observations and encounters with acquaintances new and old, usually in a literary or poetical vein.] She possessed a charming and gracious personality and unusual gifts as a conversationist. She had always a keen interest in the arts and particularly literature, and was a wide and sympathetic reader of the best works, both modern and classic. She shared with her husband a fine, discriminating taste in art, and their home has long been notable for its beautiful pictures.
This Springfield Republican obituary for Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, this note about her life, does not mention Emily Dickinson, who was already more famous than her most beloved friend but whose reputation as a good but eccentric "poetess," established by the posthumous printing in the 1890s of three volumes of her poems, had begun to wane considerably. Emily Dickinson's reputation was to be revived in the year following Susan Dickinson's death by Susan's daughter, Emily's niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. In 1914, Bianchi oversaw the publication of The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime by Emily Dickinson and she dedicated the volume as a "memorial to the love of these 'Dear, dead Women'" whose literary liaison lasted four decades and mentored the work now widely admired as the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
From the distance of a century and after study of Dickinson
and her works has become an industry, one cannot help but approach this
relationship with the assumption that Emily was the writer and Sue the
reader, always. Yet Sue wrote essays, reviews, journals, poems, letters,
and memorials constantly throughout her life and produced commonplace books
and scrapbooks of her own publications in the Springfield Republican. Dickinson herself characterized their relationship in literary terms--comparing her love for Susan to Dante's love for Beatrice, Swift's for Stella, and Mirabeau's for Sophie de Ruffey (H B95;
L 393), and comparing her tutelage with Susan to one with Shakespeare (L 757).
Their writing relationship is comparable to widely celebrated literary
exchanges such as those between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, and Elizabeth Barrett and Robert
Browning. Writing was constantly going back and forth between them, and
thus this section of the Dickinson website is devoted to study of Susan
Dickinson's writings, those previously published and those unpublished until
Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
Transcription and commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith,
Laura Elyn Lauth, and Lara Vetter, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last updated on January 10, 2008