American Lit Podcast #7 Emily Dickinson — Publication History

The first volume edited by Mrs. Todd and Colonel Higginson sold extremely well, with multiple runs selling out and more books being printed out several times in a few months. Within a few years, a second volume of poems, two-volume collection of Emily’s letters (presumably the ones Emily had sent to other people, who dug them out of their own drawers and volunteered them to the editors now that their author was famous), and a third volume, with Mabel Loomis Todd now working on her own, without Colonel Higginson’s help.

Then something happened that reminds us what life was like in the days before word processors or photocopiers.

Emily’s sister Lavnia, and Mabel, the former mistress of Austin, the brother of Emily and Lavinia, had a falling out. Before Austin died, he asked Lavinia to will a tract of land to Mabel. After Austin died, Lavinia went to court, to undo that action, and the court ruled in Lavinia’s favor.

But what matters for us is that the pile of Emily Dickinson’s hand-written poems, many of which were still unpublished – hundreds had been published by now, but she wrote over a thousand – this physical stack of unpublished poems got split up, with Lavinia (Emily’s sister) taking some, and Mabel (the mistress of Emily’s dead brother) taking the other. For the next sixty years or so, these separate stacks were sorted and edited and cataloged and treated in different ways, by different editors.

Prediscussion Podcast 7.mp3