Open Me Carefully
For the first time, selections from Emily Dickinson’s 36 year correspondence to her neighbor and sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, are compiled in a single volume. Open Me Carefully invites a dramatic new understanding of Emily Dickinson’s life and work, overcoming a century of censorship and misinterpretation. This remarkable correspondence brings to light Susan Huntington Dickinson as the central source of the poet’s passion and inspiration, and as her primary reader and literary companion. Gone is Emily as the precious recluse spinster of Amherst. Here is Emily in her own words — humorous, playful, passionate, and fully alive.
“These emotionally extravagant, lyrical letters will surely fascinate and please everyone who reads with the thought to women, love, and poetry.” — Blanche Wiesen Cook
"In writing filled with warmth, humor, playfulness, and joy, Emily shows her profound attachment to Susan as a friend and an object of literary inspiration. The romantic and often romantically charged writings, censored or misinterpreted in earlier collections, will surprise many readers. Building upon standard works such as Thomas Johnson's Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958), Hart and Smith revise earlier scholarship and provide fresh commentary. Published by a highly selective feminist press that typically produces only two titles per year, this book is an important acquisition for academic and larger public libraries." — Library Journal
"Dickinson's surviving letters to Susan, which began ardently a few years before Susan's marriage and continued almost until the poet's death in 1886, outnumber her letters to anyone else. After an examination of these cryptic messages, Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith have emerged up in arms for Susan. In compiling Open Me Carefully (which includes more than 20 poems and one letter not previously connected with Susan), they aim to show that the women enjoyed a long, close relationship, one whose workaday exchange of 'letter-poems' (Susan's term) contributed to 'the texture of their daily life.' Even more urgent, however, is their intent to champion Susan as Dickinson's 'primary reader' — the person they believe exerted the most significant, sustaining influence on Dickinson's poetic and erotic sensibility…. With spare commentary, Smith and Hart wisely let these letters speak for themselves. Most important, unlike previous editors who altered line breaks to fit their sense of what is poetry or prose, Hart and Smith offer faithful reproductions of the letters' genre-defying form as the words unravel spectacularly down the original page. All the better to appreciate, in a fresh and overdue context, that poetic voice we have come to know — iridescent, puzzling, explosive." — The New York Times Book Review
"Popular history has lost, and literary history has only lately recovered, the essential, decades-long bond between Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Dickinson. As Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart show in Open Me Carefully, the poet was on fire from within but her connection to Susan — whom she called ‘Imagination’ itself, and a source of knowledge second only to Shakespeare — helped fuel the flames." — Joshua Wolf Shenk, SLATE