Emily Dickinson Face to Face (Paperback)
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“Emily Dickinson springs to life in this remarkable, long-out-of-print biography written by her niece . . . Though millions of pages have been written about Dickinson . . . few have provided such a thrilling close-up portrait. Readers will be rapt from the first page.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
What would it be like to have Emily Dickinson as your babysitter? In this astonishing memoir, out of print for almost a century, Martha “Matty” Dickinson describes the childhood she spent next door to—and often in the care of—her Aunt Emily. We see Matty as a little girl, hiding from the other grownups in Emily’s upstairs rooms, helping Emily in the kitchen, venturing with her into the cellar for the gingerbread she wasn’t supposed to have. As Matty becomes a teenager, she finds a confidante in her aunt, who is fascinated by the latest youth fads, school gossip, and the recurring question of what to wear to a party (“her ‘vote’ was for my highest-heeled red slippers”)—not to mention the music, novels, and poems she and Matty both love. From an early age, Emily teaches Matty the joys of solitude and independence: “No one,” Emily said, “could ever punish a Dickinson by shutting her up alone.” First published in 1932, this is the most intimate record we have of Emily Dickinson, whose death sparked a long family struggle over her work and her image. In a foreword to this new edition, the poet and critic Anthony Madrid provides a biographical frame for Matty’s recollections, and explains how such a remarkable document could spend so long out of sight.
About the Author
Martha Dickinson Bianchi (1866–1943) was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, next door to her father’s sister, Emily Dickinson. She was educated at several girls’ schools and at home by tutors from Amherst College, and she studied piano at the Smith College School of Music. As well as editing important editions of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters, Bianchi published novels and poems of her own and was a frequent contributor to Harper’s and the Atlantic. In 1902 she married the Russian count Alexander Bianchi; they divorced in 1920. In her later years she divided her time between New York and her childhood home, now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum.
Anthony Madrid's criticism has appeared in the Paris Review Daily and Harriet. His two poetry collections are I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say and Try Never.
"Emily Dickinson springs to life in this remarkable, long-out-of-print biography written by her niece. The daughter of Dickinson’s older brother, Bianchi enchants immediately . . . Though millions of pages have been written about Dickinson, as poet Anthony Madrid notes in the book’s foreword, few have provided such a thrilling close-up portrait. Readers will be rapt from the first page."
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Written by Emily Dickinson’s niece, this memoir—out of print for nearly a century—offers a more intimate side of the poet, from anecdotes detailing her secretly handing out sweets to her interest in the latest gossip, fashions and books.”
— New York Times Book Review
“With charming anecdotes and moments vividly recalled, Bianchi’s thoughtful account offers the rarest of first-hand glimpses behind Dickinson’s swiftly drawn curtain, conveyed in searching and graceful prose worthy of its subject.”
— David Wright
“For Bianchi, Dickinson was not merely a magical and beloved aunt but also a metric for her own evolution. She assessed her maturation by the nuance with which she perceives the poet . . . Her affectionate proximity to Dickinson—a proximity Todd did not share—must influence one’s reading of Emily Dickinson Face to Face. If Bianchi, too, mythologized her aunt, it is nonetheless a mythology spun from lived interactions with the woman at their center.”
— Rachel Vorona Cote
"What makes this little memoir extraordinary, even unique, in all the millions of pages written about Dickinson is its intimacy . . . Say the memoirist, later known as Martha Dickinson Bianchi (we’ll call her Mattie), was four and Emily Dickinson (ED) was forty, that means Mattie knew ED, more or less continuously, through the last fifteen years of ED’s life. 'Knew'? She probably cuddled with her. Gotta be only six or seven people in the history of the universe who cuddled with Emily Dickinson, and only one who gives us a child’s-eye view of ED with other grownups."
— Anthony Madrid