I attended the 188th Birthday Tribute for Emily Dickinson at the Folger Shakespeare Library on December 10, 2018.
This is Part 2 of my recap of the event. Part 1 is HERE.
After Jen Bervin’s presentation on Jay Layde’s work, Martha Nell Smith, the president of the Emily Dickinson International Society, spoke about “an unintentional” lie she helped promulgate in her work in presenting her dissertation years ago. Before she confessed the lie, though, she asked those in attendance to keep a quote in mind – one in a letter to Susan Dickinson from Emily Dickinson:
"Dear Sue ~ With the exception of Shakespeare, you have told me of more knowledge than any one living -- To say that sincerely is strange praise.”
‘Twas then Ms. Smith divulged her lie – that Susan Dickinson was not all that important to Emily Dickinson.
To be honest, though, this view – that Susan’s role in Emily’s life was slight – was more a “false fact,” a belief accepted as truth in its day rather than a deliberate lie.
In truth, Emily Dickinson wrote more letters to Susan than any other person with whom she corresponded (and we’re talking hundreds of more letters) – and the main culprit in creating and perpetuating this myth (an "alternative fact" in today's lingo) was none other than Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin Dickinson’s mistress.
Much of Smith’s work to undo the decades of tangled tales and perceptions is presented in her book Open Me Carefully, an insightful collection of some of Emily Dickinson's thirty-six year correspondences with her childhood friend, neighbor, and sister-in-law.
Slowly but surely, the record is being straight on Susan Hutchinson Gilbert Dickinson, who – in a letter to Curtis Hidden Page – noted that “Poetry is Sermon – Hope – Solace – Life.”