3 May 2017



'Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me...'

'Emily Dickinson lived alone... and then she went as crazy as a loon...!'

So said sweet little popsicle Lisa Simpson in the episode of THE SIMPSONS in which Lisa accompanies Bart to Military School, but her statement that Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) lived alone isn't one hundred percent accurate.

Emily lived a solitary life, to be sure, in later life never venturing beyond her father's considerable grounds, but the family home also contained her parents and her younger sister Lavinia. Also, her older brother Austin lived pretty much next door with his wife and kids. So she wasn't exactly on her own per se, but she lived an isolated life of the mind, nonetheless.

A QUIET PASSION is a visually gorgeous but slow-moving film about the American poet Emily Dickinson, whom some of us might know from our schooldays as being a lady who wrote about death and immortality a lot. Her mind certainly seems to have dwelled on these big but rather sombre issues a lot during her fifty-five years of life.

Some folks might consider that these are not the healthiest of topics for a young lady to be dwelling upon, but Emily was a bit of an odd bird. She did attend a college for a few years but, after that, she pretty much became a recluse, never leaving the family home and gardens, however much her family tried to prod her into a bit of activity.

She wrote every night between 3am and dawn, with the full permission of her indulgent Papa. You wouldn't catch me out of my bed at those ungodly hours. I need my beauty sleep. Hugely popular Irish writer, the late Maeve Binchy, used to get up at five or six in the morning to do her own writing. Not me. Mornings are not my friend. Never were, never will be, haha. I'm a lifelong night-owl, me.

During her lifetime, Emily turned out some 1,800 poems, most of which weren't published until after her painful and prolonged death from something called Bright's Disease. She lived a seemingly lonely, miserable and unfulfilled life, always wanting to achieve things but constantly feeling like she was falling short. She was without doubt her own harshest critic.

The film shows us clearly that Emily felt ugly compared to her siblings Lavinia and Austin. Superbly played by Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from SEX AND THE CITY), Emily feels like a gauche ugly duckling compared to the people around her, the people who are getting married, having children and living their lives. Emily, as brilliant as her writing undoubtedly was, never led much of a life herself.

My own personal feeling is that she was frustrated by life and bitterly, bitterly disappointed by its failure to bring her love and happiness. Dare I respectfully suggest that, if she'd gone out and about a bit more and truly embraced life instead of literally cowering from it in her bedroom, she might have found the fulfilment she craved so much?

I wouldn't of course be so crude as to suggest that a good ride might have solved some of her problems or at the very least loosened her up a bit, but I do think that the love of a good man and a child of her own would have caused her to be less embittered about life.

It's funny how she forms this highly inappropriate attachment to the married Reverend
Wadsworth and yet castigates her brother Austin so severely for cheating on his wife Susan by taking a mistress later in the film. I think she's jealous that Austin has both a spouse and a lover and she herself has no-one. Her envy causes her to be judgemental.

I also think that she was greatly envious of the English author Emily Bronte who, in Emily Dickinson's own lifetime, published one of the most memorable gothic novels of all time, WUTHERING HEIGHTS. There are one or two references to the Bronte sisters in the film that lead me to this conclusion.

Emily herself was a wonderful writer whose light was hidden under a bit of a bushel for most of her lifetime. Imagine being a contemporary of Emily Bronte's and reading her marvellously evocative novel in which you can almost see the misty moors and feel the rough texture of Heathcliff's damp unclothed skin against your own after a torrential rainstorm...!

Oooh-er, missus. It's getting hot in here. It's such a sexy book, WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I never saw an actor playing Heathcliff whom I didn't fancy, haha. I always fancied myself as a bit of a Cathy, too, although I'm a ditzy blonde and not a brunette. But just imagine hearing people praising someone else's book to the skies when your own writing is going largely unacknowledged. I know how that feels, trust me.

I know how it feels to be a writer who sees other writers doing better than them at every turn, sniffle sniffle. Do play the violin for me, won't you, haha. I have my E.L. James, Homer Simpson had his Thomas Edison and, apparently, poor old Emily Dickinson had her Emily Bronte. See, we all have people who are doing better than us in our chosen fields of excellence. The trick is to avoid comparisons if it all possible. (It's not possible...!)

I'm not judging Emily harshly here, by the way. I like her and I feel desperately sorry for her, though if she were here she'd probably tell me to stick my sympathy where the sun don't shine. Apparently, she was prickly like that...!

A QUIET PASSION has been in the cinemas recently and it would have been marvellous to have seen it on the big screen. If you're a fan of elegant and elaborate costume dramas, or of poetry in general and Ms. Dickinson in particular, then you'll absolutely devour this beautiful film and should make every effort to snap it up when it becomes available on home release.

I wouldn't recommend it as suitable viewing for a rowdy lads' night in, though, unless the lads in question have a strong penchant for bluestockings who wear a lot of white and won't conduct a conversation with anyone who's not at least a whole staircase away from them. In-joke there, you've gotta watch the film to know what that's all about, haha.

And watch it you should. In the recreation room of the afterlife (there's bound to be a tattered copy of EMPIRE lying casually open on the coffee table), Emily might finally be feeling like she's getting the attention she deserves. And venture a genteel half-smile...

                                                  '...The carriage held but just ourselves

And immortality.'


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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