Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) remains one of the most powerful yet elusive poets of the 19th century. A new portrait has recently been discovered that could be only the second authenticated photograph of the writer. To prove that the image is 'the real McCoy', experts have been brought in to compare samples from Amherst College's textile collection with the dress of the sitter, in addition to an ophthmalogical report comparing the teenage Dickinson (below) with the older woman.
One hitch in the theory is the unfashionable dress that Dickinson is wearing in the photograph. It is apparently greatly outdated for the period, however, the poet herself wrote to friends on occasion stating that, "I'm so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare." If it is genuine, this image of a self-assured woman with the slight hint of a smirk on her face, who seems to radiate confidence and self-possession, may help dispel some of the lingering notions that Dickinson was a wilting lily, caught up in her own imagination. She may have been reclusive in her later years, as well as deeply private, but that doesn't mean she was crazy. The woman in this newly uncovered photograph looks intelligent and mature. I can perfectly picture this Emily laughing at the world who thought she simply wrote about flowers, without examining the subtext of her haunting poetry.
In an exciting twist that seems straight out of the pages of a mystery novel, Amherst has released the photo to the press in the hopes that anyone with additional information will come forward.