Emily Dickinson's Death in 1886 Grossly Exaggerated

Emily Dickinson is remembered in different ways. Gifted poet…reclusive daughter…gentle soul…social misfit. The Belle of Amherst was all of these things during her short lifetime. And more.

The more, as seen from the vantage of today’s modern woman, was Emily’s enduring self sufficiency. Once she returned from a brief stay at college, she settled into a splendidly insular life inside the attractive privacy of her father’s home. From there she dined, slept, engaged in extensive correspondence, and penned over 500 poems now considered among America’s finest.

What can such a frail distant woman of her times possibly have to say to the strong modern women of our times? At first glance, nothing. At second glance, perchance a glimpse into a lost world. The once heralded world of the home. Not the home of today’s busy families who dart in and out between jobs, schools and play. Rather, the home of the 19th C middle class culture in which the woman-at-home was not seen as prisoner. As discard. As someone who can’t make it in the real world.

OK…! I’m a man and a man has no right judging what’s good for a woman. Emily and all the other home-nestled Emily’s have slipped into the fog of another age. And so it’s quite agreed here in 2012: We can never go back to before.

But whenever I read Emily I can’t help envying some of her privacy, her security, her very her-ness by which she knew who she was and seemed entirely comfortable with that. The lures of the outside world weren’t all that alluring. Hers was an inside world where she found everything she needed.

Mine was a mother much like that. Once upon a time there were millions of them. I try to imagine what that was like. Oh wait…! New millions of women [and men] are once more finding out. As they too discover working-and-being-at-home is an ideal not quite as dead as we thought….

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