It’s not far-fetched to conceive that hermetic poet Emily Dickinson had just one known photo taken of her. Dickinson’s reclusive lifestyle shaped both her poetry and her interpersonal relationships as she penned her thoughts about pain, death and her inner psyche, yet rarely showed her face in the world, historians have long reported.
But now the world may have gotten another glimpse at the poet who rarely left her house, the writer who preferred to correspond with her friends via letter. A new photograph unveiled by Amherst College, in Dickinson’s hometown of Amherst, Mass., is believed to show a 30-year-old Dickinson.
The photo, a daguerrotype, is thought to have been taken around 1859, features the young woman believed to be Emily Dickinson sitting next to a friend, Kate Scott Turner. The only other known picture of Dickinson was taken in 1847, when Dickinson was just a teenager.
The photo was originally picked by a collector back in 1995 in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 2007, the anonymous buyer brought it to Amherst College, where academics have been looking into the photograph’s origins. It was shown publicly for the first time last month at the Emily Dickinson International Society conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
The photo features a mature, healthy-looking Emily, in contrast with the reclusive image that is associated with her later years. According to the Associated Press:
The photo contradicts a misperception that Dickinson never left her house, when in fact she was quite social in her younger years, Kelly said. It also offers a strikingly different image from the existing photo of Dickinson as a frail, teen girl, which was taken before she began writing poetry. The newer image was taken when she was roughly 30.
Using a combination of high-resolution imagery and by comparing swatches of fabrics and facial features, the specialists at Amherst still have no definitive answer. But Mike Kelly, the head of the archive and special collections department at Amherst College, assured the Associated Press. “I think we can get beyond reasonable doubt,” he said. `