What the Dickinson?!?

I had an email from Telstra the other day, warning me that I had used 85% of my 100 GB monthly data allowance on my internet plan, with more than 2 weeks to go til the end of the billing cycle. This is the first time that has happened in the year since I got my iMac, and can be explained by my binge watching various shows on Netflix and Apple TV since Christmas Eve. Firstly, I did The Witcher, then I got into Apple TV and tore through For All Mankind, an alternative history of the space race, and then watched all of Morning Wars (aka The Morning Show for the one reader I have out there in the USA).

And now I am into Dickinson, a somewhat steampunk retelling of the early career of mind 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, starring Hallee Steinfeld in the titular role.

I have read a lot of poetry in my time. From age 15 til about 9 years ago, TS Eliot was my favourite poet, and The Waste Land my favourite poem. Then, when going through a bit of an existentialist crisis connected to a health scare, I took another look, along with a deeper dive, into Dylan Thomas, and decided that he is my favourite poet, and that his work In Country Sleep is even more mind blowing than The Waste Land.

But sometime even before TS Eliot, I read Emily Dickinson. I always though of her as rather prim and proper, a frigid American answer to the spinsterish Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Mind you, the evidence that has come to light in recent years in her correspondence suggests, gratifyingly, that that impression was quite wrong, and that Emily was a much more interesting character than a repressed spinster secretly writing her poems in the parental home, til dying in stifling late middle age.

The Apple TV series Dickinson plays on this alternative revisionist characterisation of Emily Dickinson, presently her as an 18 or 19 year old rebel with the mores of the iGen (or, being a Gen Xer myself, I might say Gen Z, as I define the following generations against my own).

I have only seen the first episode so far, and I am savouring it (I did go into Telstra to convert my internet plan to unlimited data, but I am not sure it has triggered yet). We see an Emily Dickinson who swears, who ironically and drolly observes ‘How sexy!’ at the next suitor that her mother is lining up for her to reject (a pig farmer), and who confidently and conceitedly observes ‘I love it when people quote me’ to another spurned suitor and literary collaborator. And she kisses her brother’s fiancé on the mouth quite passionately (this is based on an interpretation of some evidence from letters that have come to light in recent years).

The supporting cast is hilariously wooden and intentionally two dimensional, with Jane Krakowski playing Mrs Dickinson with all the blindness of a Mrs Bennett, and black humour flying in all directions. And throughout the episode, as Emily struggles through the creative process to write the first verse of The Chariot (they don’t allude to the title as such, but I do know my Dickinson), we see it emerge line by line, til at the end she concludes, in a way very atypical of 1850 America: ‘Nailed it!’

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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