Posts Tagged ‘Polly Longsworth’

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

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

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 One sure point of contention is the clothing: people will note that the dress “Dickinson” wears seems to be out of date for a late 1850s photograph.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.