Emily Dickinson – ‘Open me carefully’

Course Dates: 02/12/23
Time: 10:30 - 12:30
Location: Keeley Street
We explore how the myth of Emily Dickinson’s solitary life was shaped by others. The course investigates the reality behind the myth through letters and poems written to and shared with her great friend and confidante, Susan Gilbert, over many years. We also look at how and why her first editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, set about excluding Susan from the record, establishing Emily as a recluse, writing for herself alone.
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Full fee £19.00 Senior fee £15.00 Concession £12.00

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Course Code: HLT302

Full Sat, day, 02 Dec - 02 Dec '23

Duration: 1 session

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What is the course about?

This in-person literature course looks at some of the poems which Emily Dickinson wrote to or shared with Susan Gilbert, her closest friend who became her sister-in-law. We consider how she expressed her feelings about Susan in both poems and letters, how Susan responded and how Emily came to value her advice. We note how Susan (who also wrote poems and published stories and articles) arranged for some of Emily’s poems to be published. We will see that Emily actively discussed her poetry with her closest friend throughout her life, rather than writing for herself alone.

What will we cover?

We will look at how Emily’s and Susan’s relationship developed over 40 years from passionate intensity to a more measured intimate friendship, though still sometimes expressed in coded messages. We will read and discuss some extracts from Emily’s letters to Susan and some of the many poems she shared with her. These include poems for which Emily’s letters still exist, such as 'One Sister have I in our house' and 'Safe in their Alabaster Chambers', and others believed to have been written for Susan, such as 'Wild Nights-Wild Nights!' and 'What shall I do - it whimpers so', for which written evidence no longer exists. On Emily’s death, Susan destroyed everything she felt was “too personal and adulatory ever to be printed”.

We will look at how Susan influenced Emily’s funeral, dressing her body with a robe she made and with flowers symbolic of their relationship. She also wrote a fine obituary for the local newspaper. Finally, we will note how Mabel Loomis Todd, co-editor of Emily’s posthumously published poems, set out to exclude Susan from the record as she (Todd) was Susan’s husband’s (Emily’s brother’s) lover and how this has influenced views of Emily ever since.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Understand how Emily Dickinson’s and Susan Gilbert’s relationship developed over 40 years.
• Understand why this relationship has been largely disregarded since Emily’s death.
• Enjoy reading and discussing some of Emily’s poems from a different perspective than usual.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

You should be interested in exploring Emily Dickinson’s poetry in some depth. No particular knowledge or skills are needed.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The session is run in a seminar style with all students invited to read poems if they wish and take part in discussions led by the tutor. You will receive the materials the previous week so you can read them and be ready to discuss them.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No. All the materials will be provided by the tutor.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

This term the tutor will also be teaching HLT125, Poetry Cooked and Raw and HLT29, An Introduction to Poetry. Look for other poetry classes under History, Culture and Writing/Literature/Poetry at www.citylit.ac.uk.

Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith has taught poetry writing and literature courses at the City Lit for some years, focussing on modernism and writers' radicalism. He researches and lectures at King's College London, helped to found Magma poetry magazine which he sometimes edits and has been a Trustee of the Poetry Society.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.