Emily Dickinson wrote a fantastic poetry catalog, which is an integral part of literature courses from high school through college. Her brilliant command of language resulted in poetry that is “rivetingly inexplicable” and “charismatically inviting.” In bringing her life story to the television stage, however, proceed with caution because it presents a biased version of the truth.
Apple+ follows the contemporary Hollywood tradition of spinning Emily Dickinson's life into a "modern tale," which includes rambunctious behavior and lesbian sex. Yet this show, like the people who found her catalog of poetry after her death, tells the tale created from the lens of those who would profit from her story. Starring Hailee Steinfeld as Dickinson, the first season was released on November 1, 2019. A second season, according to Wikipedia, was ordered in October 2019 before the searies even premiered.
The LGBTQ community adamantly declares her sexual identity as a lesbian because they want it to be true, yet scholars who study her writing do not support that confidence. Too bad. What the public gets is confirmation bias that a single woman from the 1800s who wrote from a vivid imagination with linguistic flair was gay. The truth suggests otherwise.
The show seems to follow the tradition of A Knight’s Tale, where history gets a comedic upgrade complemented with a little sass. It also portrays what life was like for women in the 1800s, and the difficulty unconventional women like Dickinson had fitting in with social expectations.
However, I am going to guess that the show will not address her exploration of Christianity. Consider the quote in her Wikipedia entry: “Dickinson wrote to a friend the following year: "I never enjoyed such perfect peace and happiness as the short time in which I felt I had found my Savior."
Is the show all bad? No. It may not be appropriate for young children, but it sure serves as a conversation starter with teens about the differences between pop culture portrayals of historical figures and historical facts.
Here's the official trailer...
- Apple+'s fictional and distorted portrayal of Dickinson may be the sole source of information for many young people on this amazing woman.
- This “version” of a historical figure is only slightly informed by historical fact.
- Teach your kids to search for the truth.
- The show raises significant issues around family, gender roles, and social expectations, so investigate the history and talk about it with your kids.
- Teach your kids how to research history by getting information from reputable sources.
- Scholars do not agree on Dickinson’s sexual identity, nor do they mention lesbian relationships when recounting her story, which you can read here.
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