New York Times
January 19, 2017
“In the Trumpian sense of the term, she’s the ultimate ‘nasty woman.’ An inspiration. Volcanic. When I start to write about her, I always feel, uh-oh.” The volcano referred to is Emily Dickinson, as described by the contemporary poet Susan Howe in the catalog for an exhibition, “I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson,” opening on Friday at the Morgan Library & Museum.
The show is one of the largest gatherings ever of prime Dickinson relics, and it comes with an aura the size of a city block. It instantly turns the Morgan into a pilgrimage site, a literary Lourdes, a place to come in contact with one aspect of American culture that truly can claim greatness, which we sure can use in an uh-oh political moment.
The show has a mission: To give 21st-century audiences a fresh take on Dickinson. Gone is the white-gowned Puritan nun, and that infantilized charmer, the Belle of Amherst. At the Morgan we get a different Dickinson, a person among people: a member of a household, a village-dweller, a citizen.
She was born in 1830 to rural gentry in Western Massachusetts, and one of the earliest items in the show gives an impression of modest Yankee privilege. It’s a portrait of Dickinson at around age 10 with her older brother, Austin, and young sister, Lavinia, done by a local artist, Otis Allen. It’s sort of a big deal to have it here: This is the first time it has left Houghton Library at Harvard since it arrived there in 1950. And the Morgan displays it well, against rose-patterned wallpaper that replicates the original, only recently uncovered, in Emily’s Amherst bedroom. In a sweet coincidence, the roses on the paper echo the flower the poet-to-be holds in her portrait.