The Emily Dickinson Kindle Portrait

Most people who read this blog probably know I'm a big Emily Dickinson devotee, so I won't wax sentimental. However, a matter has come to my attention, a matter of serious import, and since Ms Dickinson is dead, it behooves me to defend her honour. I am talking, of course about the picture of Emily Dickinson that pops up on the Amazon Kindle screensaver, which is giving poor Madame Dickinson a bad name. The thing is, look at that picture, it's creepy. It's not a nice picture. It looks like Emily Dickinson had a love child with a lace doily. Ick, right? Well, let's look at it for a minute, in better detail: Those of you out there who've ever used photoshop will, doubtless, begin knitting your brow now, but let's take a quick look together, shall we? Witness those eyes, isn't that strange how her left eye and right eye are different shapes? And what's with the big smudgy white place around her lips? Then, look at the shadow. There must be some strong light on there, so how come her nose is shadowing downd and to the left and her lips are shadowing straight left? Hrm... it must be DOCTORED! Yes, indeed it is doctored. The Harvard archives, in fact (where much of the Dickinson errata of the world is stored) hold records saying as much. In fact, they have the photo in it's stages, as it went through the doctoring process. Witness:

* (1) Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Portrait, 1978. 1 item: photograph. Caption on recto: "Photograph of the unretouched and unframed daguerreotype [ca. 1847] of E.D. owned by the Amherst College Library. Presented by Amherst College Library [March 31,] 1978. Permissions sh[oul]d be granted only by Amherst College Library." This item is for reference use only, not to be reproduced. *99M-3. * (2) Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Portrait, undated. 2 items: 1 photograph and 1 negative. Photograph annotated on verso: "Emily Dickinson of Amherst when about 17 years old taken from a daguerreotype which her sister Cousin Lavinia Dickinson gave me to have copied, Gertrude M. Graves. Sep 23. I am sending today another copy of this to her niece Mme. Bianchi. G.M Graves." Image is possibly slightly altered from image in item (1). *46M-287. * (3) Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Portrait [with altered hairline], undated. 4 items: 3 photographs and 1 negative. This image is an altered version of the ED daguerreotype. Labeled "first stage" by L.B. Graves. *46M-288. * (4) Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Portrait [with fluffy hairstyle and white scarf-type collar], undated. 2 items: 1 photograph and 1 negative. This image is a further altered version of the ED daguerreotype. Labeled "intermediate stage" by L.B. Graves. *46M-286. * (5) Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Portrait [with fluffy hairstyle, stand-up ruffled collar, and white bodice], undated. 3 items: 3 photographs (2 framed). This image is the final altered version of the ED daguerreotype. Item 2 is framed in black and has label on verso: "No. A11382 Doll & Richards. 2 Park Street, Boston." Item 3 is framed in brown and has label on verso: "No. 8276 Bigelow & Jordan ... Boston, Mass." Label includes Ms. annotatations: "Picture of Emily Dickinson owned by Gertrude M. Graves [illegible] Boston, Mass." Labeled "final state" by L.B. Graves. *46M-289.
So, that is the original daguerrotype? Let's put them side by side: Now look close, can you see it? The image was reversed, the hair was pasted on (look close, you can see the shadow of her original hairline, in fact), and they put on the frou-frou. Then they drew a buttload of makeup on her, dolled out her eyes to anime width, and attempted to make the shadows more dramatic, thereby gifting her with a shadow of a moustache (in all fairness, doesn't this picture look more like Frieda Kahlo? Only without the authenticity made Frieda beautiful) In truth, just so we can clear this up now, there are four ACTUAL images known to exist of Ms D. Lets lay them out, real fast: The childhood portrait: The silhouette: The teen picture: The recently discovered older picture: (in the interest of full disclosure, there is some scholarly debate about whether this is really Emily D) Then, special notice of the lock of hair, which is KIND of like a picture: Amazon, all these images are lovely, the Dag and the silhouette are fairly iconic and recognizable - why did you have to pick the one picture that's a blatant fake? I do not know, I will not profess to know, and I don't mean to imply that Amazon made these alterations - this horrible picture has been 'round since, I believe, the 70's. I would admit it's possible that Amazon didn't even realize it was a fake. But I will tell you why the image frustrates me so much - obviously (while they, in my eyes, failed) the picture that you see on your Kindle is meant to doll up Emily Dickinson, to make her pretty. And I'm left with a sick feeling, like we all need to have a pretty poetess if we're to love her. Is the image of Dickinson that's genuine somewhat unsettling, unconventional, even, I suppose, conventionally somewhat unattractive, in many people's minds? Sure. Who cares? Lord, have you seen Charles Dickens lately? Yeah, imagine kissing THAT every morning. But who cares? We don't worship Dickens because he was a hottie. He was a great author. And having read Dickens, I like his face now. It's got this slightly dopey, but deeply, stridently genuine face, that LOOKS like Dickens. He looks exactly like himself. And Emily Dickinson's poetry? It doesn't look like Ms. Frou-Frou-Curly-Mop. Emily Dickinson was not delicate and pretty and tra-la-la flowers. There's a part of our culture, though - and I struggle with it too - that still... well, it NEEDS her to be frou-frou. Frou-frou we can handle, frou-frou is acceptable, we can process it. Strange and striking, that's for boys, right? Keep on fighting Frieda Kahlo, Emily Dickinson, Emma Goldman, all you odd, beautiful souls, aware of and happy in your peculiarities, battle ain't over yet, 'pparently.

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GLBT Challenge

I'm signing up for the GLBT Challenge 2009 on the blog OF the mysterious Amanda Gignac. Here's my list:

1) Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

2) If Not, Winter by Sappho

3) Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

4) Alan Turing, the Enigma by Andrew Hodges

5) Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

6) Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva

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My First Ever Reading Challenge!

Hush! said Louisa, Stand still! He's stepping into the sea!
And Louisa was right, for he stepped, his little cold toes in the salty-warm, strange water, like stepping into a graduated bathtub that's already been bathed in. The wind was hot, too, and the sun, and everything was hot except for him, and he stepped on, into the sea, the sea called Reading Challenges and Book Blogs and Stuff, and shivered from the solves of his feet...
Well, I'm afraid, because my wife is getting far too hip and cool, and I'm afraid if she gets too cool, she'll get bored of me, so I must become in some measure cool, like her, so as to maintain my pertinence. So, I'm taking my first one of these reading challenges that she is always talking about. Amanda was sitting in our bedroom the other day, asking me to help her find books that started with 'D', and upon learning why, I convinced myself that I ought to try the same thing. So, I'm now enrolling into the 'Read Your Name' Book challenge, as described here.
For those of us, like me, who love to make hyperlinks, but are too lazy to follow them, the Read Your Name challenge is to take the letters of your name, and make an anagram of supreme geekiness, by reading a book that starts with each. Doesn't this sound delightfully like one of those things you'd dare your friends to do in high school, just before talking about the cool thing you learned in math class? Maybe that's just me, maybe only I wallow in my own historical trivialities. So, here is my list, without further ado...
J - Jungle, The : Upton Sinclair (Review)
A - Aeneid : Virgil
S - Songs of Innocence and Experience : William Blake (review)
O - Orlando : Virginia Woolf
N - Notes on the Underground : Rosalind Williams (Review)

P - Prometheus Unbound : Percy Bryce Shelley

G - Golden Bough, The : Sir James Frazier Review
I - If Not, Winter : Sappho Review
G - Gardens of Emily Dickinson : Judith Farr
N - Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List : Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Review)
A - Agnes Gray : Anne Bronte Review
C - Canterbury Tales : Chaucer

Sorry if I sound awkward. I've never done this before...

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"I Remember" by Damien Rice

Had this song recommended by iwarshak on Twitter yesterday. I had to take my exams yesterday morning, and one of them was for the writing class I've been working on all semester. The big essay on it required that I write on some geographic region and what it means to me. It ended up being a really painful essay, so I was feeling a little moorless in the morning, afterward. This song saved my day. The beginning is slow, keep watching.

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Diggery Bottoms Paracosm

So, over the last few months, I've been thinking about literature, and about where it can go in the world, and I've had this crazy idea floating around my head, about a new literary medium, one where data is interconnected and non-linear, like Wikipedia would be, and where the focus is on constructing a world collaboratively with a lot of people, rather than on any specific plotline. I have been researching the world that the Brontes created to play in as children, that they continued to develop and write more into for the rest of their lives, and came across the name of this genre: the paracosm.

So, I've had a book I've been writing for ages, and it seemed like a good enough place to start experimenting with the idea. I've published a few chapters of it, along with some of the beginnings of the notes I have on the book, and will be publishing more as I go on. Once I have a critical mass of central material, I will be formalizing the structure, so that others can collaborate on the same world if they like, writing their own stories, poems, etc, as well as editing what is already published. In the meantime, good editors are more than appreciated, or if you're just curious to see what I've been working on as my latest efforts to change the world :).

Diggery Bottoms

EDITED: If you are interested in following the story as it unfolds, there is an RSS feed available. In the future, I will see what I can do about generating a separate feed with only in-world writings, so you don't have to see all the dictionary entries, etc., if you don't want to.

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Excerpt from The Rounds at Diggery Bottoms

From "Chapter 7 - Aside - Tiffany's"

Martha woke up with an expired, sweaty cling about the limbs. The skin of her thighs had fused feverishly into the bedsheet, and he head had a quivering post-fever burn about the temples. It felt divine, slack, smooth, the edge of her melting indistinctly into the bed. She lay slack, savouring the discomfort of her shivering legs, for a minute.

She opened her eyes, and the feeling dissolved. Everything was real around her, suddenly and immovably real. The warm cradling hand beneath her belly was the sagging center of her old mattress, her skin, was blotchy through sweat-stained sheets, and black hairs were crawling out of the pores on her legs in a shoddy troop. Before she even knew it had been there, the warm dream that still rested against her lips started to dissolve down her chin. Quickly she tried to grab at the shreds of it, but the beautiful parts were too strong for her roasted brain to codify on such short notice. Something blue and violet, and very deep and warm, and dark and alone, and feeling like she was in a huge bassinet, that somehow was less ridiculous than she could imagine without the aid of unconsciousness. She felt a little pang of embarrassment at the abstraction, and tried weakly to push herself up to sitting. The last feeling of pleasant night-ness left her as a scorched headache rose into her brain. She mewled out a curled groan, winking her right eye convulsively.

"Nat? Nat are you there?"

A quiet line of footsteps approached down the hall. The door opened quietly, and Nat's head poked through "Mom? Are you awake?"

Martha moaned "Sweetie, can you get me some ibuprofen? Oh god, my head..."

The door snapped shut, the noise smashing back and forth against the walls of Martha's skull. She sunk back down to supine. A moment later Nat came back in with a glass of water, with a straw. He tiptoed across the room to Martha's bed, and said very quietly "Do you want a straw?"

She didn't answer, only reaching weakly out for the medicine, Nat dropped three dusty pills into her hand. She put them in her mouth, and wrapped her lips feebly around the straw - about half of the water ran down her face, but it was enough to swallow the pills, "Oh... I feel like hell."

Nat grinned, "Does this mean I can swear now, mom?"

She frowned and tried to suppress a laugh - it came anyway, but jarred her brain less than she expected.

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