The Home of the Eccentric Recluse

I swear I could HEAR my daughter’s eyes roll back in her head when I suggested we stop by Emily Dickinson’s house after touring UMass Amherst. I explained that I feel personally responsible for supporting these types of museums. If old English majors don’t visit Emily’s home and other important literary sites such as the House of the 7 Gables and Poe’s grave, then, really, who will? She conceded, if I promised a sweatshirt in return. Deal.

I enjoy touring college campuses, at least I did, the first 4 or 5 times. After awhile they begin to blend, like Caribbean cruise ports. Since precious vacation days must be spent on this important teen/parent bonding activity, I long ago began to package the campus visit with an unrelated sightseeing adventure. The Emily Dickinson museum is the perfect detour if you’re spending the day at one of the schools that comprise the 5 College Consortium:  Amherst, UMass, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke or Smith.

The Dickinson houses are operated as one museum offering two different guided tours, a 90-minute one that includes the Homestead and The Evergreens (brother Austin’s house) or a shorter, 45-minute one. Our docent was a trim, somber woman who could not believe my daughter’s lack of interest in the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon. Who could possibly pass on the chance to read all of the Belle’s 1,789 poems in one sitting?

Emily Dickinson Museum

Emily Dickinson Museum

The path between the Homestead and the Evergreens.

Emily’s house tour includes the parlor, library and bedroom where she’d sit in the evening at her tiny writing desk and haul out the bits and scribbles that she’d tucked in her pocket throughout the day. You’ll learn little fun facts about the poet; for example, she was a prize-winning bread baker. What you won’t hear though are any of the salacious stories about the family, like those told in Lyndall Gordon’s “Lives Like Loaded Guns.” Apparently, Brother Austin routinely violated the Homestead’s living room couch with his paramour, Mabel Todd. Our guide only mentioned that it had been reupholstered. The tour concluded with a brief discussion of Emily’s poetry, comparing her freestyle verse to the more structured work of contemporaries like Emerson. When asked to read “I’m Nobody” out loud, I know my daughter considered vaulting through the window.

Emily Dickinson Museum

Besides the sweatshirt, I offered compensatory cuisine – lunch at The Lone Wolf, one of Amherst’s excellent independent restaurants. She scarfed down chocolate chip pancakes while I enjoyed an Eggs Benedict Florentine. The restaurant’s open 7 days a week until 2 p.m. and, in addition to traditional breakfast fare, offers a number of Southwest and vegan options.

Lone Wolf Amherst

Lone Wolf Amherst

Dickinson’s poetry was a relief to me after hours spent fretting about rhythm, meter and scansion. Her work is accessible and true.  My favorite line is “To live is so startling, it leaves very little time for anything else.” – Emily Dickinson

What’s yours?

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9 thoughts on “The Home of the Eccentric Recluse

  1. This is on my list of places to visit! Thanks for the preview. I also appreciated hearing your daughter’s reaction! I met a woman last year and told her of my interest in visiting historic homes. She said (somewhat disgustedly), “Oh, you are one of those sign readers.”

  2. I don’t get it. Your blog is all about the why-not of getting out and mine is about the why of staying home–I travel as much as the belle–still you write well, I’ll check back here ever once and a while.
    By the way here’s my view on emily ( if she’d ever gotten to france.
    Thank you for the like may I ask why?

    • Thanks for the visit – there’s nothing wrong with interior journeys…they’re just different.
      As for the like – I was scrolling through the Reader this morning and liked your art. Liked your description even more. And love the Dickinson portrait.

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  4. I don’t have a favourite line, but “I felt a funeral, in my brain” made an impression! Thanks for the like on my blog 🙂

  5. My best friend from my undergrad days and I love visiting historic homes. I could barely contain myself when we went to view Emerson’s study at the Concord Museum. We then took the docent-led tour of his home (located just down the street) a year later. Thanks to your post, I think it’s safe to say that Emily’s house will be on one of our travel itineraries in the near future.

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