Emily Dickinson meets up with Lady Chatterley
Although Emily Dickinson has been my favorite poet for years, I have to admit that she’s beginning to get on my nerves lately because she seems to be showing up everywhere.
Facebook, postage stamps, TV, notepaper, refrigerator magnets — you name it and she’s there. Just look at what happened the other night, for instance.
We were all gathered down at the local library for the monthly book discussion, when in Emily came. No advanced warning, mind you. I suppose if she stopped to think about such a bold move, she’d have gotten scared and scurried back to her room.
Well, she didn’t back down this time, no sir. In she came wearing, of course, her legendary white dress, which actually looked amazingly fresh considering its age. I can’t say the same for the rumpled old brown jacket she had draped over her shoulders, however. My guess is that she borrowed that from Robert Frost. You see, for years she and Frost and their respective memorabilia, hung out across the hall from each other up on the top floor of the Jones Library in Emily’s hometown of Amherst, Mass.
During the day their admirers would drop in to visit these famous poets and peruse their work. But once nighttime came, things could be pretty lonely up on that top floor. In fact, you can’t tell me that Robert and Emily didn’t get together some nights. Who knows what hanky-panky could have been going on up there? In fact, that’s probably when she made off with his brown jacket.
Anyway, after making her entrance, Emily took the remaining vacant seat at our library table, and the evening began. The book to be discussed was none other than D.H. Lawrence’s once-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Since it was published long after her death, Emily, of course, had no idea what was about to transpire. (Wouldn’t you know she would show up on this night, and not when we were discussing poetry, or an historical novel?)
The book opened the way most novels do, with a description of the setting — in this case, the austere coal country in the Midlands of England. Emily didn’t look too pleased. I suppose she’d much rather it was set in Wordsworth’s picturesque Lake District, but we don’t choose the settings.
Next came Lawrence’s main characters, Lady Chatterley (Connie) and her husband Clifford — the lord of the Wragly Manor. Since he had been wounded in the war and confined to a wheelchair, he tended to spend much of his time indoors. After a while Connie became tired of this, and ventured out on the property to see what she could find. What she found, of course, was Mellors, the gardener.
(By now, Emily began to nod off a bit. We all pretended not to notice, because she’d come along way after all, and remember — she’d been gone since 1886.)
When the discussion moved on to the love affair between Lady Chatterley and her gardener, things began to heat up, and so did Emily. She perked right up and paid strict attention, especially when she heard what a mismatched twosome these lovers were. After all, in her biographies she’d been linked to three possible suitors herself and none of them could be called a perfect match for her. Samuel Bowles was too gruff and political, Judge Otis Lord was just too old, and Rev. Charles Wadsworth was tempting, but he was already married.
The novel moved on to chronicle the rather intense love tryst which took place not up in the manor of course, but in a grubby hut where the gardener hung out. Often, Lady Chatterley was there all night. You’d think someone back at the manor would have missed her, but evidently not. Now if Emily had tried that back in her day you can bet her sister Lavinia would have notified the Amherst police department pronto.
Last but not least in our book discussion came the little matter of vocabulary. There were some words in those torrid love scenes that I will bet Emily Dickinson had neither seen nor heard in her entire life. She began to look a little pale. Then the next thing we knew, she was taking notes — probably writing down some of those words so that when she got home she could look them up in her dictionary.
Finally the monthly book discussion came to an end, but by the time we got up from our chairs to head over to the refreshment table, Emily was gone. She’d put on Robert’s old jacket and disappeared. We were sorry to see her go, but we felt very privileged that she had come.
Now, we are beginning to wonder what the chances are of having Robert Frost show up at one of our discussions some night. Maybe he’d tell us what really did happen between them on those lonely nights at the Jones Library. And in turn we could tell him where his old brown jacket went. Anyway, the welcome mat will always be out for Mr. Frost, anytime he chooses to come.
I just hope we’re not reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey that night, that’s all.
Joann Snow Duncanson, a former Peterborough resident now living in Greenland, is the author of “Who Gets the Yellow Bananas?,” co-author of “Breakfast in the Bathtub” and author of her latest book, “Eight Crayons - Poems and Stories by an Almost Sane Woman.” Reach her at www.jsnowduncanson. com or email ourbooks@ worldpath.net.