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Is ‘Dickinson’ Accurate About Emily Dickinson’s Life?

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Emily Dickinson is one of the most iconic poets of all time. Her 19th-century poetry is still read by high school English students. On November 1, 2019, a new television series, Dickinson, premiered on Apple TV+. Fans had mixed reviews, wondering how realistic the show is to Dickinson’s biography. So, is it realistic?

About The Show

It doesn’t seem like Emily Dickinson’s life should be made into a comical television series, but the new series, Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld, is altering your entire idea of the prolific, revolutionary poet. We think of Dickinson as a reclusive, depressed young woman who never left her bedroom. But the new Apple TV+ show takes some creative liberties to present Dickinson as a fun, rebellious woman who is desperate to become the best poet of all time.

Dickinson’s fans probably don’t appreciate that the new series isn’t completely accurate. After all, Dickinson famously penned the lines: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Translation: Tell the truth—the whole truth—but tell it indirectly. Tell it gently and with care.

So, what does the TV series present? Most importantly, is it similar to Dickinson’s real life? Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Her Passion For Poetry

At its core, Dickinson focuses on a young woman’s desire to become a poet in the mid to late-19th century. The majority of her poetry was published posthumously after her death in 1886. But Dickinson wrote poetry all the time. She couldn’t stop writing poetry and pouring out her emotions and perceptions of the world.

All of the verses that appear in each episode of Dickinson aren’t fabricated by the show’s screenwriters. Instead, they’re Dickinson’s actual writing. The premiere episode features lines from her most famous poem, “Because I could not stop for Death.” Other episodes feature popular poems, including “A Still – Volcano Life” and “Wild Nights.” With this in mind, no matter how you feel about the show taking creative liberties on Dickinson’s biography, at least it doesn’t neglect her poetry.

Was She A Lesbian?

Dickinson never married, which allows historians to ponder about her romantic life. She wrote letters to a potential suitor, George Gould, but a relationship never evolved. Instead, historians and fans believe Dickinson was actually a lesbian and that she had feelings for her sister-in-law, Susan “Sue” Gilbert.

Recent studies of Dickinson’s poems and letters suggest that the poet shared a romance with Gilbert. In an 1852 letter, Dickinson wrote to her: “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me?” While it’s impossible to confirm a love affair between Dickinson and Gilbert, Dickinson has decided to elaborate on the relationship. It’s the show’s core love story. It will be interesting to watch how the relationship evolves.

An Outgoing, Lively Young Woman

Dickinson has elaborated on several details, but for the most part, the series is based on accurate descriptions of the poet’s life. However, there is one clear difference between Dickinson and the new series. We know Dickinson was a recluse who hardly ever left her bedroom unless it was absolutely necessary. As early as 1867, she didn’t even open her bedroom door to talk to people. Instead, she talked to visitors from the other side of the door rather than speaking to them face-to-face. Isn’t that sad?

The new Apple TV+ series changes this entire part of Dickinson’s biography. The show instead portrays the poet as an outgoing, lively young woman who loves to pull pranks at lavish parties. In fact, in the show, she throws parties at her homestead—something Dickinson never would have done.

It’s purportedly difficult for fans to accept the differences between Dickinson and the poet herself. The show is concerned with telling a fun coming-of-age story, rather than forcing history down viewers’ throats. Ultimately, new viewers are being introduced to Dickinson and her poetry. That’s always a good thing.

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