Original release date: January 8, 2021
[woman narrating] The records of Emily Dickinson’s life, up to and including Sue and Austin’s marriage, are full and factual compared with what lies ahead.
Over the next few years, just a handful of letters survive.
The truth, perhaps, is hidden in her poems.
[projector clicking, speeding up]
[machine wheels clanking]
[“Wild Wild Woman” plays]
[no audible dialogue]
[no audible dialogue]
[knocks on door]
[woman] Mrs. Dickinson.
Look straight ahead. Relax.
[stomps foot] Okay. Doctor, what do you think?
It doesn’t look good.
I’m not going blind, am I?
No, no. Not blind, no.
Oh, thank God. That’s a relief. Good.
Do you still have the blurriness? The odd flashes of light?
Yes. Like sometimes when I’m writing, the edges of the page just disappear.
Do you write often?
All the time.
Ah, well, [chuckles] you might wanna stop doing so much of that.
Well, wait. Could all that writing be hurting her eyes?
Oh, my God. Emily, dear, you don’t want to cause any increasing harm to your vision.
Well, again, you’re not going blind.
It appears she is suffering from iritis.
It’s an inflammation of the iris.
Along with a touch of myopia.
All right. So what’s the treatment?
Sit in dim rooms if you can.
Avoid the sun. And remember, you can’t necessarily trust what you see.
[Edward] Avoid the sun?
[stammers] Well– Goddamn it, man.
This was a lot of money to pay for a bit of impossible advice.
“Avoid the sun”? She’s not a bat, you know.
Dad, it’s okay. I don’t need the sun. I still have the moon.
Emily, hush. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of shouting at this man?
If you like, you could stay a couple more days.
I could conduct further observation.
I wanna go home.
[doctor] Let me just present you with the bill.
You’re a crook.
I’m actually America’s very first ophthalmologist.
Oh, this is outrageous!
You’ll have to come back in about six months to see if there’s been any improvement.
So you think it might get better?
It will only get worse.
[train whistle blows]
[Emily] Before I got my eye put out – I liked as well to see as other creatures that have eyes – and know no other way –
But were it told to me, Today,
That I might have the Sky
For mine I tell you that my Heart Would split for size of me –
This is highway robbery, this man. Unbelievable.
Do you have to keep muttering?
I’m just trying to figure out how three days at the doctor’s office cost us the equivalent of a trip to Europe.
Sorry for being so expensive.
Oh, no, it’s not you. No, honey, I spend barely anything on you.
[sighs] It’s your brother, unfortunately.
I spent far too much on that house of his.
Had to have the finest of everything.
And then the market crashed, and the railroad went bankrupt…
Do you mind if I go back to thinking now?
You really are a poet. You write all the time these days.
Well, what do you do with all these poems? You never show them to me.
Well, I could– I couldn’t show them to you.
You– You wouldn’t understand them.
Well, you’re probably right.
I just hope that you do find someone who can understand.
Oh, don’t worry. [stammers] I have someone. I do.
[“Flooded Field” plays]
Long ride from New York.
Thanks for coming.
Of course. Let me get this for you.
Yes. Ooh, careful. Careful.
You would not believe how much I spent on this.
[grunts] I’m sure I wouldn’t.
Oh, God, I hope she likes it.
There we go.
Thanks again, Henry.
Mr. Dickinson, before you go–
Uh, actually, just call me Austin.
Honestly, it feels less awkward.
I was just wondering…
…whether the barn might be free tonight?
Oh. Yes, absolutely.
Free as a bird.
So, it’s all right if I…
You do your thing in there, Henry.
And if anyone asks you any questions, you send them right to me.
You’re a kind man, Mr. Dickinson.
Your father is being so terribly frugal these days.
He frets about every little expense now.
You know, he’s even asked us to take in a boarder.
I was shocked too.
I said, “What kind of respectable people will we be if we have a stranger living with us?”
Luckily, I managed to find someone we already know.
Do you remember that nice young man who dropped out of Austin’s college class?
Wait, Mom, the one that I used to–
Oh, and he’s already arrived.
How are you?
What is even happening right now?
Was I talking to myself?
I think I know you from somewhere. What is your name?
Who are you?
I’m Emily Dickinson of Amherst.
Really, I must have met you before. You look so familiar. I–
Hey, who are you?
The train doesn’t even have a dining car. No wonder the railroad went bust.
Who were you talking to?
What are you doing in my house?
The last I heard, you were back in Kentucky making bootleg whiskey.
I was actually selling pharmaceuticals.
It’s, uh, just one of my many successful business ventures.
Okay. If it was so successful, then what are you doing back in Amherst, paying rent for a room in my parents’ house?
I’m glad you asked.
I came here for you.
I’m surprised you even remember me.
Of course I remember you.
You’re the most pure, simple, quiet, traditional girl I ever knew.
And that is why… I wanna make you my wife.
Ship, we hooked up once,
and then you hooked up with someone else the same night.
Uh, that wasn’t very chivalrous of me.
You’ll see I’ve changed, Lavinia.
I’m not that college dropout who got drunk and tobogganed into a lake.
I’m a serious adult man with entrepreneurial instincts and a profound respect for women who embody traditional values, such as submissiveness, chastity, and a willingness to do household chores.
I’m not even like that.
You’re Lavinia Dickinson.
You have tea parties for your cats.
Okay. Well, yes, but, um, I’ve changed too.
Oh? And how have you changed?
I’ll show you.
Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa. What are you doing?
Don’t you think we should wait? Until marriage?
Henry “Ship” Shipley…
I don’t think you have any idea who you’re dealing with.
[sighs] Feels good to be home.
[Edward] We’re home!
[Mrs. Dickinson] Hello?
They’re back from their journey.
What did the doctor say?
You have no idea how hard this has been for me.
Mother, I’m the one with the eye problem.
Well, I’m the one with a daughter who may be going blind.
I’m not going blind.
God, why is this happening to me?
Again, not happening to you.
A blind child to take care of.
Strange boarders living under our roof.
The wallpaper is cracking.
We just got this wallpaper.
Well, it’s already out of style.
I’m not going blind.
[sighs] I’m so happy to hear that.
I missed you.
I missed you too, Vin.
I have so much gossip for you.
I’m sorry. I don’t have time. I have to get back to work.
Wait, why are you rushing?
You’ve been away for three days. Don’t you want to say hello?
No. I want to write.
My mind is bursting with ideas.
No, the doctor said you shouldn’t be writing. It’s bad for your eyes, Emily.
Then stab my eyes out and be done with it.
I don’t need my eyes to see. I don’t.
All I need is my soul.
That’s what I see the truth with.
And the truth can be seen by a blind man, so let me be blind.
As long as I have my poetry, I’m not afraid of the dark.
Huh. See? Everything’s going to be all right.
[Austin] Em, wait up.
Sue wants to know, are you coming to the party tonight?
No. But, Austin, please tell Sue that she has to come over and see me.
She’s at our house, getting ready.
But I need to talk to her.
Yes, and she wants to talk to you too.
That’s why she specifically asked me to ask you to come to the party tonight.
Okay, well, tell Sue that I can’t come to the party tonight.
Tell her that you told me that she told you to tell me to come over, but I’m telling you that she should come, but that I told you–
I’m tired of playing messenger between you two.
Just come to the party. We live right next door.
You know, sometimes that lawn feels like it’s 100 miles long.
Was I even invited to the party?
Mom, we all have to go to the party.
Sue’s salons are the talk of New England.
I memorized the write-up of the last one.
“Mrs. Austin Dickinson of Amherst dazzled at her latest well-attended soiree.
The parlor of her splendid villa, the Evergreens, was packed with a veritable who’s who list of New England society.
Italian wine was served, and it was hard to say which flowed more pleasantly,
the liquor or the conversation.”
It is so crazy.
Sue is an influencer.
Really? I can’t even believe I know her.
And guess who’s coming tonight?
Um, Ithamar Conkey?
No. Mr. Samuel Bowles.
The editor in chief of The Springfield Republican.
Sue has a connection to him. And she networked, and he’s coming.
Mom, he’s a media mogul.
He could write about all of us in the paper. We could all be famous.
I have to find something to wear. I need to wear something insane.
I need to go change.
Why do things have to change?
[Ship speaks indistinctly]
[Emily] The meadows – mine – The mountains – mine
all Forests – stintless stars
as much of noon, as I could take
Between my finite eyes
The motions of the dipping Birds
The morning’s amber Road –
For mine – to look at when I liked,
The news would strike me dead –
Hi, Maggie. I didn’t even know you were in here.
A good maid knows how to be invisible.
You’ve been writing so much.
Soon it’ll take up the whole trunk.
We’ll have to find a new place for your nighties.
Will you put the sheets on top of them so they stay hidden?
Your whole family knows you’re a poet now, don’t they?
I still like to keep a few secrets.
Uh, I’ll let you get back to your work.
Though I don’t know how you can write with all that racket over at Sue and Austin’s.
Sounds like they’re doing all the latest jigs.
[loud music, chattering]
[“Purple Hat” playing]
[no audible dialogue]
[Austin] Let’s go.
Place is sick! And they got oysters!
Oysters are actually a cheap and widely available food.
Ah, you look like you’re doing well, man. Look at this place.
Well, my dad made me partner in the firm.
Ah! That is awesome, bro.
I’m a businessman myself.
[Ship] We should discuss our portfolios.
Yeah. Well, I hope I see you around, man.
Oh, you will. I’m living with your parents.
And your sister and I are engaged.
Uh. Uh, we– we are not.
We’re engaged to be engaged but we’re taking it slow, you know?
Out of respect.
Um, I hope he treats you better than Joseph Lyman.
I can handle myself.
Lyman! What happened to him?
He went down to New Orleans.
Oh, word. Nola.
[chuckles] The Big Easy, right?
Yeah. Heard it’s super chill down there. Yeah.
And the, uh, tobacco is mad cheap.
Yeah. Because of slavery.
[piano: classical music]
I’m loving the pianist.
I’ve never heard this piece before. Is this Handel?
I think so.
Well, I can’t Handel it.
We should start a string quartet, guys.
We tried, but Toshiaki never showed up for rehearsals.
I was doing calligraphy.
Jane, you should just go solo.
Yeah, I should.
What about a book club? Can we start a book club?
Sure, what do you wanna read?
I don’t know. Emerson?
Emerson is canceled.
[Abby] Oh, okay. Uh, Melville?
How about Hawthorne?
You know all those guys just sleep with each other?
I know it’s cool.
[Jane] Anyway, I don’t have time for a book club. My life is crazy.
Oh, my God, Jane, it is.
I have a baby. And I’m a widow.
I don’t know how she does it.
I can’t believe my husband died right after I gave birth.
Honestly, you are so strong, and we are so proud of you.
I actually fainted yesterday.
Of course you fainted. You’re a widow.
I love your dress.
Did Betty make it for you?
[laughs] Oh, no, I don’t shop at Betty’s anymore.
It’s from New York.
Actually, the original design is from Vienna.
[man] Give her some space.
Can you make it to the barn tonight?
Yeah, I’ll try.
You know these parties always go late.
We’ll be working all night, okay?
Ah, the evening papers. Speaking of the papers, where is Mr. Bowles?
I thought he’d be here by now.
[Emily] Sue, I came to see you.
What’s wrong with your eyes?
Oh, the doctor wasn’t sure. Iritis, I guess.
No, Emily. You have ink all over your face.
Here. Come with me.
Only you would show up at a party looking like a raccoon.
I’m not here for the party. I’m here to see you.
As long as I can still see, I wanna look at you.
Well, I’m hosting.
You’re always hosting. You spread yourself so thin.
Come on, I’ve been waiting all day. All week.
I need to know.
What did you think of my poems? Tell me.
I loved them.
Oh, thank God.
I always love your poems. But these new ones, they were…
Say more. Please. Come on, say more, say more. Say more.
Uh, reading them, it’s like, it’s like my… it’s like my heart almost explodes.
That’s what I want.
That’s what I want you to feel.
It’s– Sometimes it can be almost too much.
It can be so painful.
What do you– What do you mean?
It’s just that your poems, they…
They make me feel things that I don’t want to feel.
[sobs] Like when I lost the baby.
St– Stupid to call it a baby, I suppose.
No, it’s not.
It wasn’t a baby… yet.
But it was something. And…
then it was gone.
Do– Do you ever… talk to Austin about it?
No. No, he knows nothing.
And you swore…
I know I did.
…never to tell him.
I know. I won’t, I promise you, I won’t.
God, look at me.
I’m supposed to be out there hosting a salon, and I’m in here on the verge of tears.
[sighs] Why do you always do that to me?
Listen. I’m so glad that you came tonight because there’s someone coming to this party that I need you to meet.
In fact, I specifically invited him so that you could be introduced.
Sam Bowles, editor in chief of The Springfield Republican.
He’s a powerful man, very good taste, and he loves to publish women.
Emily, this could be the man to put you in the spotlight.
You mean… publish my poems?
Yes. Emily, it’s time.
You need to share your writing with the world.
Oh, but you know I can’t publish. My father won’t approve.
Oh, come on. Don’t give me that old excuse.
You’re an adult now. You have to make your own choices.
You can’t let your father stand in the way anymore.
I’m not. I can’t.
Your poems are works of genius.
And you owe it to the world to let them be seen.
I don’t need the world to see them. I only need you–
Well, I can’t be your only reader anymore.
It’s not enough. You need more.
And that’s why I’ve invited this man tonight.
This man who is going to fall in love with your poems.
[“Sexy Black Timberlake” plays]
Mr. Bowles, you’re here.
I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else. How are you, Suzie? What’s new?
Sam, I’d like you to meet my sister-in-law, Emily Dickinson.
Of course. The famous poet. I’ve heard all about you.
Oh. Nobody’s heard of me.
Well, it’s my job to know things before other people find out.
I’m a newsman. I gotta keep my ear to the ground. I gotta stay one step ahead.
The world is changing fast and so is the news business, I’ll tell you.
What’s all over your face?
Oh, it’s ink.
I’ve been in five cities in the last three days, Suzie, zipping around the railroad, meeting people, so many people.
It is a crazy time to be alive.
[Sue] You know, Mr. Bowles was the one who made The Springfield Republican into a daily paper instead of a weekly.
That was his innovation.
Move fast and break stuff.
I am seriously addicted to the news.
Well, like I said, I’ve heard so much about you.
Apparently, you can write like nobody’s business.
[Sue] She’s a genius, Sam.
I know she’s going to be your new discovery.
So? When do I get to read a poem?
Emily, you could recite one for us.
I’d love to hear it.
Come on, this is your moment.
[Nobody] So safer – guess – with just my soul
Opon the window pane
Where other creatures put their eyes
Incautious – of the Sun –
[clears throat, sniffles]
[woman whispering] There’s something wrong with her.
I would prefer not to.
Typical Emily Dickinson.
She’s a lot.
[“Where Do You Go” playing]
Do you want a new America? Do you want a new America?
Our paper is called The Constellation. We are bringing change, revolution.
Each of us is gonna do our part.
Thank you so much for coming.