Emily Dickinson, at Home in Her ‘Full-Color Life’, a Memoir
From the first page to the last, Dickinson takes us on a stunning, kaleidoscopic adventure through a “full-color” portrait by Elizabeth R. Bemis, herself a long-time Dickinson fan. She offers a unique portrait of “a woman who was also a writer, a lover, and a painter.”
In a memoir in which she “tells all,” she begins with the simplest of questions: “Why,” she asks, “do we love writing?” This is the premise of Elizabeth R. Bemis’s stunning biography of Emily Dickinson. As we will see, this very private poet was in many ways nothing like she appears in her life.
Bemis’s biography follows the early years of Dickinson’s life from her home in Amherst, Massachusetts to her days in Amherst, where she was a student at Amherst College and a friend of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (a great-granddaughter of Dickinson). We also get into Dickinson’s school days in Northampton, and her days as a part-time seamstress with her sister’s family in Concord. The book is enriched with letters, poems, and notes, along with accounts of Emily’s daily life in town, with Bemis’s usual grace and skill.
The book opens with a note that begins with a question and concludes with an affirmation: “Why do I love Emily Dickinson? It is because she is a woman in full-color.” This question is followed by a few pages of thoughts on Dickinson’s life, and then a lengthy passage that seems to say very little, but that is packed with thought, reflection, and a sense of her own place in time. After describing Dickinson’s first poems, Bemis draws a portrait of her that, to my eye, is very much the portrait she