She may seem a curious choice for teenage devotion. Many might think of
Emily Dickinson as someone locked away from the world, a spinster living
and writing in her bedroom as if she were in a self-made prison. In a
way, though, many teens are reclusive just like this. Uncertain and a
little afraid of the approaching world of adulthood, it seems safer to
many to keep to oneself.
This is a movie to be read instead of just being watched, one whose
meaning is difficult to grab, but will set you on top of the world with
the utmost truth once you make it. It tells about a whole day’s
experience of three different women, who encounter love, pain, weakness,
anxiety, choice, evasion, and even death. They are on their own way of
life, dealing with their existence differently, and present us with a
touching symphony of the unbearable heaviness of being.
hours life death being evasion suicide streams free suffer isolate
responsibility pain love heavy
Except – it turns out that Emily Dickinson wasn’t quite like this. A new
exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York is encouraging a different
perspective on the poet. The curator of the show, Carolyn Vega, told the
BBC that while it is true that Dickinson liked to keep herself to
herself, she also took a great interest in life beyond the front door of
her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts.
It is the start of an ordinary day, and the three heroines begin their
run. The clock is striking, reminding everybody of the passing of the
hours. They have to face it, just as they have to face the natural
process of life and death. Virginia Wolfe, the writer in the 1920’s in
Richmond, is suffering painfully from mental disorder as well as the
daily trivialities, and yet she is conceiving her novel Mrs. Dalloway
hardly. In 1951 in Los Angeles, a housewife by the name of Laura Brown,
who feels life disinteresting and kind of panic towards it, finds
resonance in Mrs. Dalloway and cannot avoid evasion. Claresa, with the
same name as Mrs. Dalloway, lives in New York in 2001 as an editor, busy
preparing a party for his former lover Richard, a Poetry Award winner,
who happens to be Laura’s son and chooses death before the party after
many years with AIDS. Claresa is seemingly relieved, while the hours
still flow forward like the streams that carry Virginia far away.
I didn’t get into the movie until half an hour or so. At first, I
thought it was much too abstract. I carried on with patience. With the
help of the music, I gradually dissolved myself into the plot. The music
is like the flowing of streams, high-sounding at a time and descending
at another. Sometimes rapid, and sometimes meek. My feeling followed.
According to Vega, Dickinson was deeply connected to her world through
family, friendships, and literary mentors and editors. She also read
many books and was aware of the political realities that were going on
around her, including the American Civil War.
Virginia hated living, because it was always against her will and even
torturing. She couldn’t breathe freely, and the only person she felt
responsible for was her husband Leonard. She lived for him. But her
heart told herself, this wouldn’t last forever. So she finally broke
away from the chains by drowning herself on that gloomy day in 1941. She
was freed at last, but she will suffer still.
Another expert gives us a clue into the appeal of Dickinson’s poems to
the young. Cassandra Atherton, an Australian academic, fell in love with
the writer’s work as a teenager. “Emily Dickinson was my poster girl,”
she told the BBC. Atherton took it so far as to model her teenage look
on the only known photograph of Dickinson. She would arrive at school
dressed in white and her hair tied in a tight bun. She identified with
the poet as a fellow outsider.
Although the other two lived in different time and space, their fates
were basically the same. They felt restrained with marriage, more or
less suffered from an inclination of depression, and acted in a
sensitive, self-examined and self-confined way. Laura should have been
satisfied with her happy family, but the only outlet she found was
staying away from the nasty corner. She firstly intended to commit
suicide. The fear of death and the hope for the better pulled her
However, the ultimate action she took was no other than escaping. She
left her man and kid, sobbing for some reasonable irrational sake. As
for Claresa, she merely took Richard as a duty she was for. She lived
with her lesbian girlfriend and even had a daughter by medical means.
Everything seemed quite okay, and she put herself in the fake image of
happiness. But Richard discovered it that they were existent for each
other. “The poet will die, for the other would live better.” He jumped
out of the window. Before he sunk to the ground, he made the last
soundless poem in the intoxicating sunshine. Claresa was freed. The
damned responsibility had gone to hell.