Episode 418: The Lady in White

Episode 418: The Lady In White

Ep 418 Dolby

Oh so much to say. Dickinson did go through a grand crisis in middle age, culminating in the "Master Letters", an excerpt from one of which is in the background of panel four - a series of drafts abjectly begging some unknown person to let her worship him/her from afar. There is a good deal of fighting over what these letters actually are. Those who want her to be a secret lesbian make the case that they could be to a female, and in her life she did scare away virtually every female friend that she had with the emotional outpourings in her beautiful letters to them. Some, who can't bear that she should feel anything as common as the need for love, try to pass them off as literary exercises, not to anybody at all.

Interesting ideas, but yeah, it's Charles Wadsworth. Matching the letters with the poems from the same period, Habegger has shown how the figure described in those poems, a figure who could only be loved from afar, is shown going through exactly what Wadsworth happened to be doing at that time. When he left the East Coast for a position in San Francisco, Emily's poems suddenly talk about the imminent departure of an object of intense devotion to a faraway land, taking the same sea route he took, using the same pitch of desperation we see in the Master Letters. She also got her friends to forward her letters to Wadsworth for her so that they would not have the postmark from the city she lived in, which is something she didn't do for others, but would make sense, as Wadsworth was way married. There's no smoking gun - much of the correspondence has been destroyed by Wadsworth's family, but it fits together pretty nicely, and lets her be herself, however disappointing that may be for some. And really, it shouldn't be. It was one period of intense impossible devotion from which boiled forth some spectacular poetry and which, once gotten over, allowed her to feel more confident within the space of her own head than ever before. Her last romance, with Judge Otis, was much more level headed, and the poetry that reflected back on that time gives us some breath-taking insight into the nature of emotional pain and the healing process.

- Count Dolby von Luckner

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