Emily Dickinson and the ignorance of curators

It is a mark of the Civil War and various antebellum passions that the daily newspaper read by the overwhelmingly Democrat population of Amherst, MA, is called The Republican. This newspaper title is actually rather common throughout New England and it must baffle the locals completely, given the scarcity of Republicans in those parts.

The Republican is running a sad little piece coming out of the Emily Dickinson Museum: Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst to host Civil War encampment group. Someone at the museum had an NRA moment and invited a bunch of armed white males onto the premises, though that's not the sad part.

What is sad is the ignorance displayed by a curator there on the subject of Dickinson's connections to the ACW. Jane Wald, director of the museum, said the following:

(1) "She wrote more poems during the Civil War years than any other time."

That shouldn't be your strongest point.

(2) Reporter paraphrase: "She was deeply affected by the death of Frazar Stearns, son of Amherst College president William Augustus Stearns, who died in the battle of New Bern, North Carolina in March, 1862."

Actually, she knew many of the young Harvard men killed at Ball's Bluff, as well.

(3) Director Wald: "The idea is to help convey a sense of Dickinson’s awareness of and involvement in the life of her community apart from her poetry."

Why not show pictures and bios of her dead male friends and acquaintances, delineating the social connections?

(4) Director Wald: "She was becoming more a bit more reclusive at this time (but) it didn’t mean she wasn’t aware of what was going on."

She was continuously informed of the deaths of young men she knew and discussed the war with her visitors, including her literary mentor Higginson.

(5) "The encampment 'is one way to highlight the range of her experiences and observations that informed her creative mind.'"

She also knew Col. Robert Shaw and was affected by his death. Maybe the museum could show the film Glory so some of that Hollywood charisma might rub off on Emily.

Could we please fire Director Wald? If not, could we put this highly credentialed professional under the close supervision of a few knowledgeable amateurs and hobbyists?

On August 10, 2000, a couple of knowledgeable people rebuked Joyce Carol Oates for saying Dickinson did not write about the ACW. I don't expect Dickinson Museum employees to read this blog, but the rebuke appeared in the New York Review of Books, a publication so assiduously mainstream that James McPherson is its house critic for all new Civil War books.

Some of Dickinson's most powerful lines are in her war verses. We expect Dickinson curators to know that.

Are we that wait—sufficient worth—
That such Enormous Pearl
As life—dissolved be—for Us—
In Battle’s—horrid Bowl?

It may be—a Renown to live—
I think the Men who die—
Those unsustained—Saviors—
Present Divinity—

And this, I have quoted before, and connected it to the deaths in the Harvard Regiment at Ball's Bluff:

My Portion is Defeat--today--
A paler luck than Victory--
Less Paeans-fewer Bells--
The Drums don't follow Me--
with tunes--
Defeat--a somewhat slower--
More arduous than Balls--

'Tis populous with Bone and
And Men too straight to stoop
And piles of solid Moan--
And Chips of Blank--in Boyish
And scraps of Prayer--
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visible--in Stone--

There's somewhat prouder,
over there--
The Trumpets tell it to the Air--
How different Victory
To Him who has it--and the One
Who to have had it, would
have been
Contenteder--to die--

Yes indeed, my friends, Men too straight to stoop again and Oates' too crooked to accept correction. Her rebuttal to this criticism is absurd - read it yourselves in the link above.

But we were talking about the ignorance of Director Wald, not Oates. Let her find Oates totally convincing. Let her believe that nonsense that Dickinson wrote no Civil War verse. In that case, let her at least present the Civil War letters of Emily Dickinson, rich in war content.

But perhaps she is unfamiliar with such letters.Being a director means you are trained in the business of museums, not poetry or Dickinson.

Why not have zookeepers direct poet's museums? Where would the downside be?