Emily Dickinson Archive makes high-resolution images of Dickinson’s surviving manuscripts available in open access, and provides readers with a website through which they can view images of manuscripts held in multiple libraries and archives. This first phase of the EDA includes images for the corpus of poems identified in The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, edited by R. W. Franklin (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1998).

Read more

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) was well known as a poet to the many correspondents with whom she shared her manuscript writings. Only a handful of her poems appeared in print during her lifetime, however, and none under her own name; those few poems were sent to publishers by friends, and she did not have an opportunity to review them before they were printed. At her death in 1886 Dickinson left behind a wealth of writings that had never been printed: hundreds of manuscript poems in her personal effects, and hundreds more poems and letters sent to her correspondents (we will never know exactly how many, since some were destroyed or lost). Many poems were preserved in multiple manuscript versions, or with variant choices for words within a single poem, without indication of whether a particular version or word choice was Dickinson’s final intention.

Dickinson did not leave behind explicit instructions about how—or even whether—her manuscripts should be reproduced in print. Her first editors, reflecting the conventions of print and the traditions of late nineteenth-century poetry, sometimes changed her words and regularized her grammar, syntax, and rhyme, as well as punctuation and capitalization. They added titles to poems, sometimes deleted entire stanzas, and did not convey Dickinson’s variant word choices. They transcribed poems as metrical stanzas, rather than replicating the visual arrangement of words exactly as found in Dickinson’s manuscripts. While their methods differed from modern editorial principles, it was thanks to their efforts that Dickinson’s work reached a wide public audience.

Since those first editorial transcriptions, there has been debate about the importance of the manuscript page to our understanding of Dickinson’s poetry. Some critics argue that Dickinson’s manuscript pages are mediated primarily by metrical and stanzaic conventions. Other critics assert that her manuscript page, with its spaces between words, lines, and stanzas, its ambiguous capitalization and idiosyncratic punctuation, represents Dickinson’s radical revision of these conventions. Some critics believe that Dickinson, over the course of her writing life, came to conceive of her poems as fully realized in their manuscript condition rather than as drafts designed with the printed page in mind. This range of critical opinion provides a compelling reason to make access to images of those manuscript pages more easily and widely available.

Dickinson’s manuscript page is the focus of Emily Dickinson Archive. A search of the full text or first line from a poem produces images of all the manuscript versions of the poem, where multiple versions survive. Readers have the option of selecting from a historical array of editors’ transcriptions of these autograph materials into printed form, and of viewing a transcription by physical line or by poetic line, depending upon the editor’s choice. Additionally, readers can use the site’s tools to create their own transcriptions, annotate images, or, by zooming in, look closely at Dickinson’s handwriting.