Tuesday, March 4, 2008


(Authenticated Emily Dickinson circa 1846 and newly discovered Emily Dickinson circa early 1850s -- click on image to enlarge)

As I stated in a post two days ago, the newly online website Common-Place, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in association with the Florida State University Department of History, has a treasure trove of previously published articles now available for the self-directed reader of history. I want to draw your attention to another pair of items there, both concerning Emily Dickinson.

The first fascinating read is the first-hand account of how Philip Gura, an American Studies professor and collector of early photography, found and won on eBay for $481!) the second known adult photograph of Emily Dickinson, one taken at the height of her creative arc. In How I Met and Dated Miss Emily Dickinson: An Adventure on eBay, Mr. Gura takes us through the process of suspicious discovery, acquisition, and slow authentication of this astonishing photograph.

Both the previously known version and the new photo shown above are also featured in my prior Emily Dickinson post on this blog. My post also has other highly informative links to Emily's life and work.

As a genealogist as well as armchair historian, I've been deeply interested in old photographs for decades and have taken more than one course in how to best utilize them. There are now excellent online resources available to help you date photographs, identify photographers, preserve and conserve early images, and differentiate between type of early photos, including daguerrotypes, calotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, stereographs, and wet-plate prints. With regard to my own family, I was able to prove a date of migration for one branch of my family using backgrounds employed by local area commercial photographers from another branch of the family.

(A nursery door at the Evergreens. Courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum: the Homestead and the Evergreens. Amherst, Massachusetts)

A second Dickinson-related article is by art historian Katharine Martinez, titled The Dickinsons of Amherst Collect -- Pictures and their meanings in a Victorian home. Her opening paragraphs explain:

"Entering the Evergreens, the home of Austin and Susan Dickinson, the brother and sister-in-law of Emily Dickinson, is akin to experiencing an archaeological site. Members of the Dickinson family lived in the house continuously between 1857, when it was built, and 1943, when Austin and Susan's daughter Martha died. Elements from the 1850s are still there today, along with other household objects and artwork chosen and arranged in subsequent years—creating, in effect, layers linked by networks of meanings and associations.

"The Evergreens was home to a family whose members expressed themselves, their ideas, values, and feelings through furnishings, artwork, and household objects. Looking at photographs of nineteenth-century interiors and visiting historic houses like the Evergreens challenges us to explore the relationship between objects and their owners. While much has been written about how people interact with their material world and about how domestic objects were 'expressions of sensibility,' I am particularly interested in understanding just how nineteenth-century Americans interacted with and assigned meaning to the growing body of images available for their consumption. Austin and Susan Dickinson's home is an ideal place for this sort of inquiry."

In his wonderful sci-fi novel Time and Again, Jack Finney posits a theory of time travel playing on the notion that time is not linear but, rather, all time is occurring simultaneously. If this is so, it should be possible to slip from one time to another. Finney's book achieves this via self-hypnosis on the part of extremely imaginative individuals who immerse themselves so completely in the artifacts and mind-set of another era that they are able to escape the "persistent illusion" of our own experience and acquire the illusion of a past time. As someone with an imagination on steroids, and a fascination for the past, I'm drawn like a tractor-beam to this possibility. If I show up missing, you might look for a message scrawled by me on the papers left in Emily Dickinson's attic bedroom.

(Drawing of Emily Dickinson as a child)


Liza Cowan said...

I adored Time and Again. The movie wasn't even that bad. And I've personally seen people appear from another time and then disappear as fast as the came.

oops, there goes my credibility.

Maggie Jochild said...

OR, Liza, you just UPPED your credibility among all the time-traveling folk.

Dr. Who, you are welcome on this blog!

letsdance said...

"As someone with an imagination on steroids, and a fascination for the past, I'm drawn like a tractor-beam to this possibility. If I show up missing, you might look for a message scrawled by me on the papers left in Emily Dickinson's attic bedroom."

Okay, Maggie, is there any area of interest you have NOT dipped into?

Maggie Jochild said...

Jan, I don't understand how the stock market or Federal Reserve Bank works, I never took chemistry, I speak no German or French, and I never took any drugs that weren't prescribed to me (I never even smoked pot). There's WORLDS my experience or interest have not brushed near.

However, if I DO figure out how to time travel, immortality will be my next venture, and then I can get around to neglected areas.

kat said...

So, I could drive you nuts writing posts in French and (mangled)German?


I don't know if this was covered the last time you wrote about Emily Dickinson, but are there editions of her poems that correct all the pronouns and stuff that the early editions changed?

I was never really into Dickinson, and a good part of that was that the poems seemed to whirly-girly with all the pining after some imaginary dude.

I see that I missed a lot, and was mislead, and want to give it another go.

thanks for expanding our horizons!