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Miss Emily; a portrait of Emily Dickinson

I recently read Nuala O’Connor’s intriguing book about the American poet Emily Dickinson, which was given to me by a close friend. The novel blends fact and fiction creating a meticulously detailed description of 19th century Amherst.

 

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The story line follows a fictitious young Irish girl who sets out across the Atlantic and gains employment as the (real) Dickinson family’s maid. The plot interweaves the lives and relationship between Ada, the maid, and Emily, poet and daughter of the family. Although the action in the story also concerns the lives of men, I particularly enjoyed this book for the way it focused on the inner thoughts of the two main female characters and the narrative alternates between the perspectives of the two women.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
 
Emily Dickinson

 

Emily Dickinson. Daguerreotype. Ca. 1847.

 

Dickinson was one of the first subjects I chose when I began making a series of historical women’s portraits. Above is a daguerreotype of Emily and below is the portrait I made based on it (watercolour & collaged ball point drawing).

 

Emily Dickinson

 

I love this quote from Emily’s niece about her aunt:  ‘She was not daily bread, she was stardust.’, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. She was indeed a  remarkable woman.

Here is a link to the book, if you would like to find out more:     

Miss Emily  by Nuala O’Connor

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