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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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Sketching in Gloucester Cathedral

I recently spent an afternoon sketching in Gloucester Cathedral near my home. A monastery has stood on this site since the late 7th century and the cathedral was established in 1541.

There are many things that I love about the cathedral, but having a particular interest in women’s history I am always drawn (no pun intended!) to the exquisite 15th century Lady Chapel. Below is a sketch I made of the tomb of Elizabeth Williams, who sadly died in childbirth aged only 17 years.

Sketch of the tomb of Elizabeth Williams, Gloucester Cathedral (sketching)

The inscription reads:

“Elizabeth speaks: Husband, you carved me in marble here your wife;
Thus you’d ensure her immortality.
But CHRIST my hope and trust was, all my life;
So God forbids that I should mortal be.
July 4th AD 1622. Wife of W.I. Williams,
Youngest daughter of Dr Miles Smith,
Bishop of Gloucester
Aged 17″

Also laid to rest with her was the tiny unfortunate child, who sadly, somewhere over the centuries has lost her nose.

Sketch of child of Elizabeth Williams, Gloucester Cathedral (sketching)

Elizabeth Williams and her baby lie directly opposite the tomb of her sister, who also died in childbirth. So very sad, but I’m grateful that the lives of these two young women were valued enough by those who knew and loved them for them to have been commemorated with these beautiful memorials.

Tomb of Elizabeth Williams and baby, Gloucester Cathedral

The memorial to Elizabeth Williams and child – Photo by Julian P Guffogg

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