Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A New Twist on Emily Dickinson

Has something in Emily D's. life remained sealed? According to Lyndall Gordon, a senior research fellow at St. Hilda's College in Oxford, England, Emily Dickinson may have suffered from epilepsy. If Gordon's hypothesis is correct, her seclusion and refusal to marry would be explained in a new light. 

References to sickness are numerous in Dickinson's poems. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," she wrote, and "I dropped down, and down." In another poem, " I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—/As if my Brain had split—." She refers to "convulsion" and "throe." Did Emily tell us, through metaphor, something about a medical condition that she had? Supporting factors include prescriptions consistent with epilepsy treatments of the time, photosensitivity (common among epileptics), and a family history of epilepsy.

Gordon's book, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds, looks at Dickinson's health and family issues – new info supported by documentary evidence, impressive research, brilliant writing – a fascinating read. 

Article 2
Article 3


  1. Interesting. I always thought when I asked her to marry me and she said no it was because of me.

  2. Comments from Facebook:

    Tony Gruenewald - I heard the author interviewed on WNYC last week.

    Amanda Berry - She [author Lyndall Gordon] said it was only a small part of the book. I don't think she meant it to be such a big surprise, but it made sense to her from the symptoms and the fact that Epilepsy would have been regarded as a shameful thing in that day, and thus not something to mention in public.

    Carl Peter Klapper - Dostoevsky also had epilepsy and used that experience to write "Idiot".