“It will change our idea of her”: Is this the grown-up Emily Dickinson?


Is she?  Or isn’t she?

Amherst College Archives and Special Collections have uncovered a new daguerreotype that it figures is the real Emily Dickinson, all grown up.

The Emily we know, at age 16

So far, the evidence tallies in its favor, “including computer work with detailed scans of the original daguerreotypes (1847 and 1859) and an ophthamological report facilitated by Polly Longsworth in March, 2010.”

Certainly the addition of a second sitter of whom there are multiple images in existence helps the case: if one can show that it’s Kate Turner, a known friend of Dickinson, then it increases the chance that the other sitter who looks like Dickinson is Dickinson. One sure point of contention is the clothing: people will note that the dress “Dickinson” wears seems to be out of date for a late 1850s photograph. However, that evidence may be of less significance when one considers the 23-year-old Dickinson’s comment to friend Abiah Root in 1854, “I’m so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare” (Johnson letter 166).

Kate Scott Turner, who would have visited the poet in Amherst about 1859, seems to match another one found of Kate as a young woman. Anyone with information, fir or agin’ the supposition that this is Emily D., is invited to contact Amherst.

If the daguerreotype is eventually accepted as Dickinson, it will change our idea of her, providing a view of the poet as a mature woman showing striking presence, strength, and serenity. She (whoever she is) seems to be the one in charge here, the one who decided that on a certain day in a certain year, she and her friend would have their likenesses preserved. In fact, even if this photograph is not of Dickinson and Turner, it has still been of use in forcing us to imagine Dickinson as an adult, past the age of the ethereal-looking 16-year-old we have known for so many years.

Oh, you’re wondering which one is Emily?  She’s the one on the left.  Her friend Kate, a recent widow, was in mourning.

Read more here.

Postscript on 9/5:  More photos, more theories, more possibilities here – including the poet Janet Lewis‘s vote.

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17 Responses to ““It will change our idea of her”: Is this the grown-up Emily Dickinson?”

  1. Phil Sheehan Says:

    It looks like the same right hand in each picture.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Don’t think so, Phil. Emily has fuller lips, and the eyes pretty much match the woman in the old-fashioned clothes at left. But yes, the right-hand photo does have that grim, daguerreotype look to it.

  3. Phil Sheehan Says:

    Sorry for the confusion; I meant the known Emily and the presumed Emily, with prominent (right-hand) index finger about as long as the middle finger.

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You have sharp eyes.

  5. Eva Says:

    How neat! My only hesitation is that Emily’s dress in the later picture looks awfully old-fashioned for 1859. Though I guess a noted recluse would hardly push to follow every whim of fashion. Still, it screams early 50s to me. How was the second dag dated?

  6. Cynthia Haven Says:

    That’s what my post says. She apologized to friends about her out-of-fashion clothes. Early 50s would fit.

  7. Jonathan Dickinson Says:

    Sharp eyes indeed, Phil. The index finger certainly is distinctive. I focused on the similar wide set of the eyes, perhaps because it is a trait that seems to have persisted. You may have noted more nuanced similarities, Cynthia.

  8. Andrea Myers Says:

    I agree with Cynthia. I don’t think it’s her. Compare pics with this one that is presumed to be her in later years, which I think it is: http://www.unc.edu/~gura/dickinson/ed1.jpg And the one we all know: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Emily_Dickinson_daguerreotype.jpg I see nothing similar in the one above. =/

  9. Cynthia Haven Says:

    But wait! I didn’t say that! I haven’t expressed any opinion at all!

    Scholars weigh in, please.

  10. Mr. Lent Says:

    I find Phil’s observation about the mystery lady’s fingers compelling. Another point of comparison might be the mystery lady’s earlobes. 19th and early 20th century forensics focused on the earlobes as a possible unique identifying mark. The earlobe closest to the other sitter appears nearly identical to the one in the identified image of Dickinson at 16. Perhaps a high-resolution comparison could provide a match?

    I’m avoiding using “left” and “right” to describe the sitter’s anatomy as the viewer of an original daguerreotype sees a mirror image, with left and right reversed. Whether the reproduced images have corrected for this or not, I cannot say. However … the newly-discovered image is reproduced here in a case with the hinge on the left. This would be the convention so it opens like a book. If so, we are seeing the two ladies in mirror image. So the mystery lady on our left, as we view the reproduction, would actually be sitting to the left of the known woman, Kate Scott Turner. Thus the mystery lady has her RIGHT arm around Turner. This seems reasonable. Was Dickinson right-handed?

    I must also add, as an amateur photo historian, that while the image is described as a daguerreotype … is it really? A true daguerreotype has a highly-polished silver surface, and must be lighted just so to present a positive image to a viewer or a reproduction camera. The surface of this one seems dull … more like a tintype. I’m just asking …

  11. Mr. Lent Says:

    … and a closer reading of the Amherst College announcement makes several mentions of the “original daguerreotype” in a collector’s possession, and multiple modern copies using the same process on display at Amherst and the Emily Dickinson Museum. So it probably is a a daguerreotype. But are the copies reversed? Or re-reversed and right-way around now? Always more questions…

  12. Possible Emily Dickinson photo surfaces, R.J. Ellory caught faking Amazon reviews, and more | Quillblog | Quill & Quire Says:

    […] this a photo of Emily Dickinson, all grown […]

  13. Thomas Says:

    A major difference, as far as I can see, is the chin. In the photo known to be Dickinson, the chin seems to be cleft and is on the small side. In the newly discovered photograph, the chin is much more prominent, and is fuller on the left side (i.e. our left). I also see a difference in the nose. Dickinson’s nose is squarer and wider. One last difference I see, which is not as significant as the first two, is that Dickinson had thin fingers with bony knuckles, while the woman in the other photograph has pudgier fingers. (I may be stretching things here, though.)

  14. Poetry Project – Read a Classic in September | Regular Rumination Says:

    […] Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) – With the possible discovery of a new photograph of Emily Dickinson, this poet has been in the news a lot the past few days. Emily Dickinson is, in my opinion, a […]

  15. This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks | TweetSpeak Poetry Says:

    […] up until now, only two photographs have been known to exist. The daguerreotype includes a friend, believed to be Kate Scott Turner, a friend who was mourning the loss of her husband. Dickinson’s stiff-arm gesture may have […]

  16. nibbles Says:

    At first I thought the woman in the second photo with Kate was not Emily. I thought her body frame was to large. But I have to say that the eyes are identical. One eye is lower than the other in both pictures. The lips look very similar as well. Even the dreamy look on her face is similar with the slight smile. If the second photo is Emily then she was very pretty. She has often been describes as not physically attractive, but this photo proves otherwise. Also Emily was often describes by others, as well as herself as being very small. This woman doesn’t look very small. But some people do change a lot from teenager to adult. That woman is very lovely looking though. If it is Emily she blossomed into a beautiful woman. It is hard to believe men did not adore her.

  17. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Pardon for the delay in posting!