Trove of Emily Dickinson Documents

Update: More on Dickinson and the Amherst/Harvard controversy at The New York Times: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/books/enigmatic-dickinson-revealed-online.html?pagewanted=1&ref=books

And here is the Amherst archive link: https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/holdings/edickinson

The Boston Globe (http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/10/19/trove-emily-dickinson-manuscripts-appear-online/5NWTLLg5qM8WjF0Hjb8LzH/story.html) reports that Amherst and Harvard are rolling out an online collection of Dickinson materials this week but that there’s friction between the two institutions dating back to the Todd/Dickinson controversies that emerged after Dickinson’s death.

As anyone who’s read Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns or other books on Dickinson can attest, it’s a vexed and interesting history–unless you’re involved in it, of course, in which case it’s just vexed.

One of the things that Gordon explains, almost as an aside, is that in transcribing Dickinson’s poems after her death, Mabel Loomis Todd first used what was known as an index typewriter, the World typewriter,  that required the user to point at a letter and press a key to stamp it into the page. To say that this must have been slow going is an understatement.

From the article:

The conflict echoes the longstanding dispute between Harvard and Amherst over who may lay more rightful claim to Emily Dickinson. When Dickinson died, her sister, Lavinia, discovered hundreds of her poems.

Lavinia approached their sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, about editing the poems. Susan Dickinson delayed too long, and Lavinia turned to Mabel Loomis Todd, wife of an Amherst professor and Emily Dickinson’s brother’s mistress.

Todd enlisted the help of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and the two edited the poems — changing punctuation, amending the text, and adding titles. They published three volumes of Dickinson’s work, the last in 1896. Two years later, a dispute arose between Todd and the Dickinsons.

Todd said Emily Dickinson’s brother had promised her a piece of land and failed to deliver, according to Martha Nell Smith, a professor of English at the University of Maryland and executive director and coordinator of the Dickinson Electronic Archives.

When the Dickinsons asked Todd to return her trove of Dickinson material, she refused, Smith said. In 1956, Todd’s daughter gave the collection — some 850 poems and fragments and 350 letters — to Amherst College, where Dickinson’s grandfather had been a founder and her father and brother served as treasurers.

Meanwhile, the manuscripts that remained in the Dickinson family — some 700 poems and 300 letters — ended up being sold to Gilbert Montague, a distant cousin of Dickinson, who gave the trove in 1950 to Harvard, his alma mater.

Ever since, the two institutions have jockeyed for the mantle of most complete Emily Dickinson collection.

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