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Insights Into the Life of Emily Dickinson through Her Letters to Susan Gilbert Dickinson

Through her letters to Susan, Dickinson reveals facets of her life, and shows insights into her relationship with Susan

Emily Dickinson is well known as a poet. However, few people are aware that she avidly wrote letters to her friends and family members. One person to whom she wrote letters was her friend Susan Gilbert, later Susan Dickinson. Through her letters to Susan, Dickinson reveals facets of her life, and shows insights into her relationship with Susan.
?Emily did not rely on special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, or deaths to inspire the need for contact; the most ordinary and extraordinary events alike could prompt a poem or letter to Susan? [Hart xviii]. Emily would write to Sue over the smallest thing that happened to her. The letters she sent would be written on anything that came to hand: graph paper, scrap paper, or formal embossed paper. The letters she wrote to others were all on gilt trimmed stationary. This shows a casual, comfortable relationship between the two. They obviously knew each other well and were friends, at the very least [Hart xxi-xxii]. Emily had exceedingly strong feelings for Susan. ?Consisting almost exclusively of declarations of love combined with expressions of yearning for the other?s presence, Dickinson?s early letters to Sue (her ?billets doux?) highlight the intensity of her emotions: ?this precious billet, Susie, I am wearing the paper out, reading it over and over? [Messmer 2]. Yet more evidence of Emily?s feelings for Sue is stated thusly by Alexandria North:
?Reading Emily?s letters reveal a woman intensely dependent upon Susan?s love, as this letter shows:
?It?s a sorrowful morning Susie?the wind blows and it rains; ?into each life some rain must fall,? and I hardly know which falls fastest, the rain without, or within?Oh Susie, I would nestle close to your warm heart, and never hear the wind blow, or the storm beat, again. Is there any room there for me, darling, and will you ?love me more if ever you come home???it is enough, dear Susie, I know I shall be satisfied. But what can I do towards you??dearer you cannot be, for I love you so already, that it almost breaks my heart?perhaps I can love you anew, every day of my life, every morning and evening?Oh if you will let me, how happy I shall be!
The precious billet, Susie, I am wearing out the paper, reading it over and o?er, but the dear thoughts cant wear out if they try, Thanks to Our Father, Susie! Vinnie and I talked of you all last evening long, and went to sleep mourning for you, and pretty soon I waked up saying ?Precious treasure, thou art mine,? and there you were all right, my Susie; you have so much to do; just write me every week one line, and let it be, ?Emily, I love you,? and I will be satisfied!
Your own Emily? [North 2]
Emily and Susan both would use literary allusions as a ?masking function,? to hide their love from prying eyes [Messmer 2]. ?The intellectual intimacy between Emily and Susan begins in the early years of their relationship. In her letters to Susan, Emily frequently refers to the novels she is reading and uses various characters as metaphors or codes to relate her feelings about herself and Susan, and comment about friends, relatives, and literary and political luminaries and events? [Hart 4]. Sue is often related to Alice Archer, in Longfellow?s Kavanagh. Sue and Emily also use Ik Marvel?s fictional essays for this. ?Longfellow and Marvel thus constitute two early examples of Dickinson?s attempts to employ texts in order to map out the roles for both Sue and herself discursively. In her later letters, this strategy is explored to its fullest? [Messmer 3].
In 1853, Susan became engaged to Emily?s brother Austin. They were married in 1856. ?Emily?s intimacy with Sue grew with Sue?s closer tie to Austin. Fond as she still was of the girls whom she had been intimate in earlier years, Emily?s feeling for Sue took precedence over other friendships, and her letters during Sue?s absences were as much a part of her daily life as were those to Austin? [Johnson 44]. In a letter Emily wrote to Austin, shortly after the engagement, she said, ?I am keen, but you are a good deal keener, I am something of a fox, but you are more of a hound! I guess we are very good friends tho?, and I guess we both love [S]us[ie] just as well as we can? [Hart 5].
After Sue?s marriage, Emily realized that she was unattainable. That did not stop her from loving Sue. Instead, Dickinson reconfigures their relationship. She elevates Susan from the mutual friendship/love relationship to the ?model of courtly love and unfulfilled passion based on a power hierarchy.? Emily places herself as the rejected male lover/poet, and Sue as the ?idealized, quasi-divine female beloved, perpetually out of reach.? She magnifies Susie into something ?larger-than-life.? Dickinson wrote, ?I must wait a few days before seeing you?You are too momentous. But remember it is idolatry, not indifference.? [Messmer 6-7]
?Dickinson?s poems, letters, and letter-poems to Susan give us a rare glimpse into the poet?s process of writing and revising.? [Hart xii] We also see deeply into her soul, and gain a deeper understanding of her relationship with Susan Dickinson. Obviously, these two women cared for each other very much. The evidence is all in the letters.

Works Cited
Hart, Ellen Louise and Martha Nell Smith, eds. Open Me Carefully. Ashfield, Massachusetts: Paris Press, 1998.
Johnson, Thomas H., ed. Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters. Cambridge: The
Beknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.
Messmer, Marietta. ?Emily Dickinson?s Love Letters to Sue.? Sep./Oct.
2001. Academic Search Elite. 1 Nov. 2001.< http://ehostvgw5.epnet.c om/ehost.asp?key= eturn=n&profile=web.>
North, Alexandria. ?Emily Dickinson.? 1995. 31 Oct. 2001. ppho.com/poetry/historical/e_dickin.html>.

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