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Was Emily Dickinson a Lesbian?

A question that intrigues scholars and readers alike: was Emily Dickinson a lesbian? While there's not (to this date, anyway) direct evidence that Dickinson was sexually active with either men or women, she did write passionate letters to women (as did many women of that age). Some historians find this as evidence of what today would be called lesbianism -- others point to incidents where she seemed to be in love with men as counter-evidence. Here are some sources on this topic, to explore the different views.

More on Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson - Continuing Enigma
How did Emily Dickinson's poetry come to public attention? An in-depth look at Emily Dickinson and her poetry, from your About.com Women's History Guide.

Boston Marriage
Article on Boston marriage, from your About Guide to Women's History.

Dickinson's "Wild Nights"
An interpretation of one of Emily Dickinson's poems, often seen as a metaphor for a sexual meeting, and notable for its paradox and boat-related metaphors.

Emily Dickinson
This biographical sketch of Emily Dickinson includes some discussion of the letters she sent to her friend and later sister-in-law Susan and whether these are evidence for Dickinson's lesbianism.

Emily Dickinson
This essay, to accompany a textbook on American literature, mentions the love of Emily for Susan and issues of homophobia in the interpretation of Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson's Hidden God
A review by Grant Wacker for Christianity Today on Roger Lundin's book, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. Lundin's interpretation of Dickinson is that most of her poetry is about religious questioning -- and he resists interpretations of physical and emotional love, including failed love, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

Emily Dickinson's Horizons
A review by Phoebe Pettingell of Judith Farr's book, The Passion of Emily Dickinson. The review (and book) include discussion of the "contradictory views" about Dickinson, including the contrast of her reclusive life with the "conventional marriage chosen by her beloved Sue."

Emily Dickinson's Subversive Voice
Randy Wells analyzes the eroticism that can be seen in Emily's poems to and about her friend and sister-in-law Susan.

Famous Lesbian and Gay Couples
The discussion on this page of why they did not include Emily Dickinson and Sue Gilbert as a "famous lesbian couple" sheds some light on the difficulties of answering the question, "Was Emily Dickinson a lesbian?"

The Lesbian Belle of Amherst
An opinion column by Janet Mason, definitely siding with the conclusion that Emily wrote Lesbian love poems to Susan. She ponders, "I wonder if a Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson could have halted our self-destruction and consequently saved a few young lives." Don't miss the continuation page of the article.

Lesbian Poems
A collection of Emily Dickinson poems which have often been interpreted as evidence of her lesbianism.

Martha Nell Smith: Selected Articles
On this list of Smith's articles you'll find reference to several of her essays concluding that yes, Emily Dickinson had a lesbian relationship with Susan Dickinson.

Open Me Carefully
Selections of letters from Emily to her friend and later sister-in-law Susan are included in this book review. Also includes speculation on whether Emily's relationship with Susan was what today would be called a lesbian relationship -- though historians disagree about whether Dickinson can be called a lesbian.

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