Wild Nights with Emily

August 24, 2020

This is a movie imagining the intense romantic relationship that might have (probably) existed between poet Emily Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan. It’s good and fun and biographically accurate for the most part.

But my favorite thing about it is that the worst professor I ever had in six and a half years of higher education, who was an expert in Emily Dickinson, probably hates everything about this movie. This makes me happy.

Let me explain.

In the last year of my master’s degree, I took an entire seminar on Emily Dickinson from this professor, who announced on the first day of class that she would not let anyone else talk, because we couldn’t possibly know as much about Emily as she did so what was the point? This was a 5000 level graduate seminar, where basically the entire point is for students to discuss concepts and come up with their own ideas. So her contempt for us was…a tad frustrating. Especially when she’d spend the first twenty minutes of every class telling stories about her cats. I have many more terrible stories about this class, too many, so I’ll just close by saying that on the last day of the seminar she made us watch her perform the one-woman play she had written about Emily Dickinson running away to live in a relationship with Helen Hunt Jackson in Boulder. I’m not making this up.

Two good things came out this experience:  I wrote “In Time,” because I was so frustrated that no one ever wants to talk about how Dickinson was a dog person, not a cat person. And I came to love Dickinson and her work, and am convinced she would have despised this professor.

This movie is filled with true things about Emily, her weird sense of humor, her ambitions, her relationships, and so on. It specifically dismantles the myths about her — like the one about how she never published, that she was a recluse — that were purposefully propagated after her death by family members and others who were embarrassed by the truth and wanted to market Emily as a genteel retiring New England poetess.

And the film has a massive, massive burn against Helen Hunt Jackson. I laughed so hard, you guys. Mostly thinking about how appalled that professor would be, watching this.

Good. She never deserved Emily.


2 Responses to “Wild Nights with Emily”

  1. Michelle Garcia Says:

    I’m glad your frustration lead to a great short story.
    I used to write( badly) and read during classes with teachers like that.
    Emily Dickinson was a trailblazer. Hard to pick a favorite poem.
    Been binge watching Britannia. Very fun.

  2. The last scene of the movie, with the erasure, was heartbreaking, and so powerful.

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