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Prose Dinner: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1134

Essay

* It was very unlike Emily Dickinson’s character to entertain male visitors. She surely would have known about the latent homosexuality in Whitman’s work, which is the pretense for this otherwise illogical “dinner conversation”.

Setting: Emily Dickinson is seated at a table clearly set for tea. She is dressed in a pure white dress, appropriate for a young lady from a wealthy family in the 19th century. She is clearly awaiting a guest, something causing her much anxiety.

Dickinson (to herself): Lord, help me please! I know I have nothing to fear from this man–this contemporary of mine–unconventional and brilliant. Still, he is a man…but Mr. Emerson has never shown me malice, and he certainly can vouch for his brilliance as a writer…

A knock on the door is heard in the distance. Muffled voices are heard, coming closer…

Dickinson (still to herself): Oh! My guest now approaches! How shall I perceive him…we have more in common than he knows, that he could ever know…[1]

Enter Walt Whitman, accompanied by one of Dickinson’s servants, who departs. A young man, thin, and with a brown hair and short beard entered, dressed modestly. He approaches Dickinson and she initially recoils, as he bows…

Whitman: Miss Dickinson, it is an honor to make your acquaintance for the first time. Please, call me Walt. It is what I insist all my friends call me!

Dickinson (receptive to Whitman): And kind gentleman, I insist you address me as Emily, as my most intimate friends do! I feel a kindness about you I rarely feel from men, even my own brother…you are just…

Whitman: Real..? I pride myself on being a real person, Miss Emily. I do not enjoy the constraints society places on man, and specifically the image society expects from me. I have seen great times and bad ones, ma’am–subversive intentions seem counterproductive to me for all of us.

Dickinson: And I too, sir!  I have always found it much more conducive to express my emotions…especially through my writing…

Whitman: I do see this in your work–I have extensively analyzed the works you sent to me [hypothetically, not a historical fact], and I must say I see an influx of emotion. I think perhaps we express our emotions differently, though.

Emily Dickinson was now visibly uncomfortable. This conversation is leading where she did not want it to go…or did she? The warmth of this man made her question all her preconceived notions…

Dickinson: In what way, Mr. Whitman…I apologize…In what way, Walt?

Whitman: It seems to me that your emotions can be subversive at times as reflected in your writing—you seem emotionally trapped, and…forgive me for asking, but somewhat…

Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Susan Gilbert, Emily Dickinson’s sister-in-law and presumed lover. Emily’s face instantly flushes–Whitman notices, but stands to his feet as a gentleman.

Whitman (to Gilbert): Why it is on such rare occasion two women of such beauty are in the same room! My lady, my name is Walt Whitman, and I am an acquaintance of Miss Dickinson. May I enquire as to yours kind lady?

Gilbert (to Whitman): Certainly kind sir, and your flattery is appreciated! My name is Mrs. Susan Gilbert, sister-in-law to Miss Dickinson! Am I interrupting a private conversation? (She looked from Whitman to Dickinson, who blushed fervently, and then faltered.

Whitman: Why I certainly have no objection to the company of another lady, it is certainly up to my kind hostess!

Gilbert: I shall take my leave! I would not like to intrude on company Emily so rarely entertains! I should say, Mr. Whitman, that it was wonderful to make your acquaintance.

Whitman: And yours as well, of course. I hope we shall one day meet again, and perhaps your husband as well!

Gilbert: It would be our pleasure to have a gentleman such as yourself in our home.

Gilbert departs. Whitman seems to be observing Dickinson as Gilbert walks away, and their eyes catch. Whitman smiled–a half smile that may have been construed as cocky if it had not come from a different man. It seemed calm.

Whitman: So, Miss Dickinson, or Emily rather…I was going to ask you more extensively about your personal life…?

Dickinson: As was I, you, Mr. Whitman. I must first say that I find “Leaves of Grass” to be an extraordinary poetic work. Mr. Emerson, as I am sure you are aware, recommended your work to me. I find your poetry to be honest in a most unique way. Your poetry is so conversational, I feel I already know everything about you…

Whitman: Do you think you really do? Know everything about me, I mean. Everything about me…

Dickinson: Well, Mr. Whitman, and trust me, I mean no offense by this at all, but although it would be impossible for me to know EVERYTHING about you, I feel I do know a great deal. Again, sir, no offense meant, but it seems…

Whitman: It does not seem, Miss Dickson, that I am a homosexual. I am a homosexual. I embraced that part of myself long ago, and was forced to make myself impervious to what others have to say. I saw war the same way as any other man did, and I have seen America too…

Dickinson: I am in love with Susan Gilbert.

Whitman: Dear, your face and overall demeanor gave that away from whence she crossed into the room before. I hear tell of you remaining cooped up in this mansion, and it now makes sense. Emily, you must embrace…

Dickinson: Embrace that I am in love with my sister-in-law? I must admit that I am in love with my brother’s wife? What a disgrace I am!

Whitman: Miss Dickinson, calm down. You and I can talk about this. I can help…

Emily Dickinson stand up from the table abruptly, clearly aggravated. She was more than disturbed–she was now livid at her once pleasant houseguest.

Dickinson: Sir I do believe you have helped enough!  I demand you leave my house at once…in fact leave the state and never return! You are never welcome in this house again (leading Whitman towards the door)!

Whitman: Fair lady, I shall depart as requested. It hurts me to see you in distress, and pains me more to think I helped contribute to it. As for the information you provided me with–I shan’t ever conceal it to anyone–however, if you cannot ever embrace who you truly are, you will be lonely forever, Miss Dickinson. Goodbye.

(Exiting Walt Whitman walks slowly toward the door, in earnest for Dickinson to change her mind. It is immediately clear she is not going to. He exits. Stage fades on Dickinson along at the table.)

Works Cited

“1. Affectionate.” Project MUSE. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.            <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/edj/summary/v005/5.2.koski.html>.

“American Literature Since the Civil War”. 14th ed. 2011.

[1] This dialogue is based on the modern literary theory that Dickinson’s sexual orientation matched Whitman’s, per her letters to Susan Gilbert (Koski, 2013)

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