This is a story of discovery that will be presented by author, journalist and Tufts University professor Julie Dobrow. She is the author of After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet, copies of which she will autograph at the following Victorian tea.
When Emily Dickinson died in 1886, she was unknown outside the small circle of her family and friends. Her sister, Lavinia, promised she would burn all of Emily’s papers once she was gone. But Lavinia could not bring herself to destroy the remarkable cache of nearly 1,800 poems she discovered after Emily’s death.
Instead she sought an editor, a person who knew and loved Emily, who could decipher the confusing manuscripts and put them into publishable form. Mabel Loomis Todd was that person. Though Emily and Mabel never met face-to-face, the friendship they had built through correspondence afforded Mabel the insight she would need as she and her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, built Emily’s literary legacy.
For decades the story of Mabel and Millicent’s lives and their integral role in editing and publicizing Emily Dickinson’s poems and shaping the myth of the so-called “Belle of Amherst” had been waiting in the archives. Thanks to Dobrow the full story behind Mabel and Millicent’s work is finally revealed. Dobrow first became interested in Emily Dickinson when she was in college and routinely walked past the Dickinson homes in Amherst, MA. She devoured biographies of Emily and grew curious about Mabel, known only for her role as one of Emily’s first editors or as the lover of Austin Dickinson, Emily’s older brother. Dobrow began to work in the enormous archives of Mabel and Millicent’s papers at Yale University—neither woman ever threw out a scrap of paper—and the project began to grow.
The new biography weaves together the stories of Emily, Mabel and Millicent using hundreds of primary source materials, many of which have never before been quoted in published works. Dobrow’s work allows readers to hear the thoughts, hopes and sorrows of these women in their own words—from the unforgettable feuds between Mabel and members of the Dickinson family, to Millicent’s struggles growing up steeped in her mother’s obsession with editing Dickinson’s works, to their own close but complicated connection.
With the final success of the poems, tensions between the Dickinson and Todd families grew over the ownership of Emily’s work and the right to shape her legacy. This culminated in a sensational lawsuit, which ultimately prompted Mabel to lock the remaining poems in a chest for decades, only opening it near the end of her life with her daughter. Determined to ensure Emily’s legacy, Millicent abruptly changed her professional course and edited and published the remaining poems. But carrying on her mother’s work haunted Millicent for the rest of her life.
Dobrow is a professor with appointments in the department of Child Study and Human Development and the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and serves as director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Her writing has appeared in Boston Globe Magazine and the Huffington Post, among other publications.
The summer 2019 series of fourteen Tea & Talks are sponsored by Ventfort Hall board member Lucille Landa and William Landa.
Cost to attend is $28 with advance reservation; $32 day of. Reservations are recommended as seating is limited. Call us at (413) 637-3206 for reservations.