Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cool thing #2: Emily Dickinson's hair

This is the image of Emily Dickinson that we're used to seeing—the only extant verified photograph (a daguerrotype, really) taken while she lived:

But this picture was taken when she was sixteen. (How many of you would want to be remembered by your junior-year school photo?) And as we know from a silhouette taken when she was fourteen, her hair was not always so tied back:

But the picture is misleading for another reason: color. Emily Dickinson's hair was auburn, and apparently earlier on it was downright red. Amherst College owns a lock of her hair; pictures don't quite do it justice, but here it is:

It looks brighter in person. She herself described it as "bold, like the Chestnut Bur [sic]"; by dint of comparison, here are some chestnut burrs:

And apparently in adulthood, Dickinson preferred to wear her hair less rather than more bound up, so that the image we have of her at sixteen, hair tied back—as in this Emily Dickinson doll—is altogether misleading:

But Dickinson notoriously disdained the camera, like poets before and since. (Horace: "I hate the profane crowd, and ward them off.") And undisciplined photography would have been an unusual extravagance for the era, meaning that it would be strange indeed if we had a day-to-day picture of Dickinson wandering about the house, hair untied. 


  1. You will see what may seem miraculous, a daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson later in life. www.kaplancollection.com. The eyebrow pimple, and her crippled hand amongst other compelling evidence, leave no doubt in my head that the lady is Emily Dickinson.

    1. In the second photo that recently surfaced with her and Kate Scott Anthon, the one they say is Emily seems to be wearing the same dress as the Emily in your picture

  2. I knew I felt a special sistership with Emily -- it is the flaming red hair when we were young! That really does explain a lot (non-redheads don't understand at all -- it is a redhead thing). There is actually another image that has emerged. (see http://lavenderpoems.com/emily-dickinsons-lesbian-love-poem/ ) I personally don't think either one does her justice. She is just so dynamic, and the images don't capture that.