Original release date: January 22, 2021
Okay. Three, two, one. Good evening. I’m Emily Dickinson.
You recognized me?
Yes. Yes, I am Emily Elizabeth Dickinson.
I’m getting published, yes. Yes, I know, it’s quite a–
You look great.
You look like someone who should be on the front page. This is it. You ready? Are you ready to see and be seen?
I hope so.
Well, hope isn’t good enough. You need to know it. Look at yourself. Look at yourself and say, “I deserve this. I earned it. It’s now my time to shine.”
What do you think?
I like your gold dress better.
But not for tonight. Tonight, I need something that says, “I was too busy reading and thinking profound intellectual thoughts to even consider getting dressed up.”
I think you’re making that statement.
But it needs something. Hand me those.
Do you need spectacles?
Not at all. I actually have perfect vision. But don’t they make me look smart? Tonight is going to be an intellectual thrill ride. We have a very impressive speaker. And to top it all off, Sam Bowles will be here tonight. With Emily. This will be their very first public appearance since he agreed to publish her poem. You know, people are going to talk about the fact that it was my salon where Sam Bowles discovered Emily Dickinson. Where I helped him discover her. I’m a tastemaker, Hattie. And now I’ve put together what could be one of the greatest literary partnerships in history. Are the housewives of Great Barrington doing that?
No, I don’t think so.
That’s right. Now, I’m sure people are already here.
Wait, are you sure you don’t wanna wear this? I mean, it’s just so beautiful and from New York.
Hattie, I already told you. It’s not the right look for tonight. And besides…
I can’t be seen in the same dress twice.
Hello, family. I am headed over to Sue and Austin’s. Should I change?
No, no. You look beautiful. Ravishing, in fact. Who knows? Maybe you’ll catch some man’s eye tonight. I’d given up every hope of you ever getting married, but with Lavinia’s recent engagement, we’re on a winning streak.
Doesn’t anyone else wanna come to the party?
I do, but–
Absolutely not. Sue and Austin are living a very decadent lifestyle, and I simply don’t approve of it. It’s not the Dickinson way. And it wasn’t the Norcross way either. No, we’re not going to the party. We’re doing the thing that Dickinsons do, which is to stay at home and sit very quietly with our own thoughts.
What she said.
A quiet night in, baby. Novels and chill.
Well, I’m gonna go.
Have fun, dear. And please, take notes on how much money they’re spending on champagne.
So, you’re both ministers?
I’m eager to see who the lecturer is tonight.
Daniel and I saw an organist at a salon in Hardwick last week. Stunning. Wasn’t it, dear?
I don’t know. It was slightly irreverent.
I just love salon culture. Exchanging philosophical ideas. Encountering new intellectual challenges. The life of the mind.
I thought you got all that from my sermons.
Oh, no, yeah. I do. I totally do.
Hello, everybody. It’s me. I am getting published.
Like, in a book?
Well, The Springfield Republican. Sam Bowles is publishing one of my poems.
Emily, you’re gonna be, like, famous.
Okay, can I just say, I have always been the biggest fan of this one.
Emily, we’re best friends.
I don’t think we’ve ever spoken one-on-one.
Did you know Sam Bowles sleeps with all the women he publishes?
What are you talking about? He’s married.
Oh, I love her. She’s so old-fashioned.
No, he adores his wife.
His wife who’s never with him.
He does seem to do his fair share of gallivanting.
Oh, yeah. All over New England, on the hunt for female writers.
Okay, that’s not fair. If men can’t be interested in publishing women, then how are women ever supposed to get published?
Who says women should be published? I think it’s scandalous.
You guys are wrong about Sam. He’s just a great editor who has an eye for talent.
There’s my genius. Emily Dickinson, front-page poet. Have you told everyone the big news?
Yes. Yes, I have. Oh, Sam, it’s so exciting.
Not as exciting as this dress. Wow. It’s beautiful.
Look, my guests of honor are here. The editor and his poet. That’s the kind of rare literary match that only gets made at a salon like this one, you know? Mr. Bowles, I’m so pleased you could make it. And, Emily, you look gorgeous.
I’m not sure I wore the right thing, Sue.
Darling, you look perfect. You need to stand out. You’re New England’s hottest new writer.
When is the poem coming out?
Yeah, can’t wait to read it.
Next week, I think. Maybe Wednesday? Maybe Friday. We have a few things lined up.
Well, push them all back. Emily’s voice needs to be heard. Don’t you agree?
I am just so thrilled that I could bring the two of you together. Something about this feels like… destiny.
So, Emily… are you ready?
For me to show you off.
Well, I just hope this salon is ready for me.
Get it, girl.
Everyone is here tonight. There’s Ferdinand Andrews, editor of the Boston Traveller. And there’s Harriet Prescott Spofford.
Harriet Prescott Spofford, the poet?
Yes. I discovered her a few years ago. Now they call her the Flaming Fire Lily of New England. I wonder what your nickname will be.
I’d love to talk to her.
Hey, look. It’s Sanford Gifford. Come on, you gotta meet this guy. He’s a great painter, total asshole.
All right. Let’s do this.
We need to talk.
So, listen. I know now that we’re engaged, you think that I’m gonna become this tame, obedient housewife who always stays inside and never goes to parties and gets all of her satisfaction in life from darning your socks. But you’re wrong. I am not the boring Dickinson sister. People don’t even realize this, but I am a lot like Emily. I’m wild and creative. And the truth is, I am even more outrageous than Lola Montez.
So, if you think we’re gonna have a quiet night in, you’re wrong. I need more than that. I need stimulation.
Okay. It’s just– I’m trying to read.
Well, if I’m gonna marry a Dickinson, I gotta get educated.
So, that’s what you picked to start?
The Scarlet Letter?
Yeah. Why not?
Honestly, it’s kind of trashy.
Okay. Well, so, what is it about?
Well, it’s about this woman, Hester Prynne, who lives in colonial Boston. And she believes that her husband has drowned, so she has this affair with a minister. And she falls in love with him, and she gets pregnant. But then her husband comes back, and so she’s publicly shamed and forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” as a symbol of her adultery.
Okay. So, yeah, I guess that does sound pretty dull.
You know what, Ship?
It isn’t dull. It isn’t safe or prim or proper or well-behaved. Actually, it’s ribald.
Don’t know what that means.
Okay. Forget the intellectual salon. You know what we’re gonna do tonight?
We’re gonna have a little English lesson.
Sanford, you bastard. Great to see you. And for once, you’re not covered in paint. Listen, there’s someone I want you to meet. An astounding new poet, Emily Dickinson.
Your new flavor of the month?
She’s gonna be around a lot longer than a month. Her poems are magical. They’re like these tiny little anthills that suddenly explode with the force of a volcano.
That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.
You seem like just his type.
And what do you do?
He’s an artist. A brilliant artist.
He just means my paintings sell for a lot of money.
And what exactly do you paint?
Mostly just the Hudson River.
Sanford is a major figure in the new Hudson River school. He’s doing totally new things with the light.
Yeah, that’s what I tell them. “Oh, it’s about the light.” As soon as they hear, “It’s about the light,” that’s when they cough up the big bucks.
Well, every artist needs a patron.
Is Mr. Bowles your patron?
No. He’s my… editor.
I like the sound of that.
Well, good. Because I have a lot more poems to give you, and I hope you publish them all.
I look forward to reading them.
How nice. By the way, Bowles, Miss Louisa Pratt sends her regards.
Oh. Does she?
She really enjoyed the time you spent together on your recent trip to Washington.
Well, I enjoyed it too. We had a great time.
Emily, wanna get a refill?
Oh, yes, by all means. I know how short your attention span is. Go ahead, go mingle.
I actually need to go find Sue.
Tell her I said hello.
These rich people just keep buying my paintings.
What happened to the aprons I gave you to wear?
Got them dirty.
I asked you to help out Hattie with serving our guests.
Sue. Girls, why don’t you go into the parlor? Help yourself to some cheese.
That’s for the guests.
Sue. You can’t talk to them like that.
That’s how I have to talk to them if they misbehave.
You know, I would think that you would feel sorry for them. You were orphaned and you had no one to take care of you.
And I don’t want to be reminded of that, Austin. When I was in their situation, I did the work I was told to do. I didn’t antagonize the people who were kind enough to let me in.
You think this is kind?
You know, not everyone grows up as spoiled as the Dickinsons. Unlike those girls, I didn’t even have an inheritance to fall back on.
Their inheritance is paying for this house. They’re not here to be our servants. It’s thanks to their money that we even have a roof over our heads.
Well, if that’s the case, then you’re the one taking advantage.
Mr. Dickinson. I beg your pardon.
Henry. You need something?
Yes, sir. Later tonight, if it’s all right, I’ll need your help with the delivery.
Yes. Yes, of course.
“Do you not believe that you have sinned?”
I believe that I have sinned in your eyes. But who is to know if God shares your views?
“Silence, woman! Now, wear this letter upon your bo-dice.”
You say it your way, I say it mine.
Yes, minister. My bodice is all yours.
Don’t you think you should be a little more chaste? Just– No?
No breaking character.
‘Tis not a symbol of my shame, but your own.
You’re different than how I remembered you, Lavinia Dickinson.
Hester. You’re crazy. And I like it.
Emily. What is it?
I need to ask you about all these rumors.
People keep telling me Sam Bowles cheats on his wife.
Okay. Well, that’s not true.
Are you sure? Because the minute they heard he was publishing me, they just started to assume that we were intimate.
That’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever heard. He’s publishing you because you are a genius.
I know that’s what you might think–
Emily. It’s what I know. Listen, I know Sam. And I know Mary. Mary and I grew up together, remember?
Yeah. You once told me she was the only friend you ever had before me.
Yes, I loved Mary very much. Mary is special in a lot of ways. She reminds me of you. She’s introspective. Mary doesn’t like to leave the house. She’s terribly shy. I guess she just doesn’t really like to be seen.
I can understand that. I came here tonight to be seen, and so far it’s been a pretty unpleasant experience.
Well, that just makes me angry. You deserve to be seen, Emily. You deserve to be published. And it’s just not fair, what happens to women. The minute we get a little bit of fame, or show the slightest amount of ambition, we get slapped with the nastiest comments. We get these targets on our backs. Well, I say to hell with all of that. You go out there and you own this. You worked for this. And Sam Bowles believes in you as a writer. And that’s that.
Okay. Now, let’s find our seats. It’s time for the lecture.
There’s my superstar.
Hope I’m making a good impression.
Are you kidding me? These people have no idea what to do with you. But one day they’ll all brag about how they met Emily Dickinson at a party before she was anyone.
Attention, everyone. Please find your seats. Our speaker is almost ready.
This is gonna be good.
I just hope it’s pious.
Is this conceptual?
How’s everybody doing tonight? Who here knows what freedom is?
Meet me in the library.
You, sir? Obeying God.
I’ll see you there.
Freedom is about being yourself. Even if you’re just a young, hot widow.
Closer but no. Freedom is throwing off your shackles and saying, “Hey, world. Here I am.” And freedom… can be magic.
Now, who is ready to hear my story? I was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia. I entered the world a slave.
You didn’t like the lecture?
Oh, no. I’ve seen it before. Three times, actually. Henry “Box” Brown really makes the rounds.
Well, I was pretty riveted. So…
Oh, yes. Look, here we are.
And Diderot. Look, this is where you will go. Right here. Emily Dickinson.
Your books. Between the modern master and the Enlightenment. How does that sound?
I don’t know.
Oh, no. You’re right. There’s not enough room. You’re gonna need your own shelf. Imagine that.
I can imagine a lot of things, but… something about all this feels almost forbidden.
Forbidden fruit has an interesting flavor, doesn’t it?
Damn. Isn’t she a beauty?
A printing press. It’s a powerful machine.
Yes. Imagine what you can do with this thing.
I’m hoping we can start a revolution. Oh, hey. I don’t know if this is safe enough.
It’s all right, Henry. No one comes in this barn without my permission.
That lecture was bullshit!
“Oh, Box, Box. What was it like in the box?” Don’t those fools know he wasn’t even planning to escape?
He was drunk and he fell asleep. And it was ten years ago. Henry, you cannot put this guy’s writing in our newspaper.
You’re just mad because I put him on the front page instead of you.
No. I’m serious. He’s, like, actively bad for the community. People check the boxes now. I had a cousin who tried to escape in a box of sugar. Like, buried himself under the sugar, and they still caught him. Now he’s stuck in Mississippi. Plus, he’s hypoglycemic.
Hey, Hattie. Maybe this will cheer you up.
Oh, wow. Look at that thing.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Thank you, Mr. Dickinson. You’re an angel.
Austin. And I’m just trying to make a difference to somebody.
Well, I’m a freelance writer, and I just ran out of words.
Mr. Bowles. You missed the lecture.
I’m sorry, Suzie. I’ve seen it before.
You’re too sophisticated for us.
For the Evergreens? The pinnacle of New England literary life? Of course not.
So, you’ll still do a write-up of the salon in your paper?
Yes, of course. My readers are fiending for more details of your witty circle. Suzie, this is the place to be. The best wine, the most beautiful people.
And the greatest poet in Massachusetts.
Great lecture, Sue. The whole box thing really just blew me away. We’re gonna take off.
Yes, I didn’t realize quite how late it was getting. Thank you for coming.
We’re riding right past the inn, if you need a lift.
Thank you, but there’s no room at the inn. I’m gonna crash here tonight.
Sam is staying in the spare room. Unfortunately, it’s the smaller one. Clara and Anna took the big one.
Come on. I can sleep in a closet. Really, you and Austin, you’re far too hospitable.
Please. It’s the least we can do to thank you for giving my salon the Sam Bowles touch. Now I better go make sure those two charming young ladies haven’t put any snakes in your bed. Duties of a housewife.
Speaking of wives, I… I better go and telegram Mary. She gets so worried when I’m away for a few nights.
I’m sure. I would really love to meet Mary.
She would love you.
You really think so?
Of course. You two are both such… unusual women. Do me a favor.
Write something. Tonight.
And know that I’ll be right here… unable to sleep, because I am so close to your incredible talent. Okay? Good night, poet.
Since I have no sweet flower to send you I enclose my heart.