The new Apple TV+ series Dickinson presents a version of American poet Emily Dickinson that you definitely did not learn about high school. Hailee Steinfeld portrays a young Dickinson looking for any opportunity to rebel against the stifling mores of 1800s Massachusetts, and her boisterous, unpredictable antics are the exact opposite of the solitary, refined version of Dickinson that has become the widely accepted understanding of her. The stark contrast probably has viewers wondering whether Dickinson is historically accurate at all, and I don't blame them. Obviously, the series thrives on anachronism, but beneath its millennial updates, the show really does include a lot of true facts about Dickinson's life.
Spoiler alert: This post contains mild spoilers from the first three episodes of Dickinson. While it is immediately apparent that Dickinson laughs in the face of historical accuracy when it comes to stylistic choices — nobody was twerking to Lizzo or greeting each other with "What's up?" back in the 1800s — the series does present a lot of accurate details. Let's go over a few things that the new show actually does get right.
1. Her Poetry
All of the verses that appear in each episode are Dickinson's actual writings. The premiere episode is inspired by her famous work "Because I could not stop for Death," and subsequent episodes are inspired by her poems "A Still — Volcano — Life" and "Wild Nights."
2. Her Relationship With Sue
Although nothing is proven about the true nature of Dickinson's relationship with her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert, recent studies of Dickinson's poems suggest she and Sue shared a powerful romance. Dickinson amps this romance up to become the show's core love story, as Emily and Sue carry on a tryst even when Sue becomes engaged to Emily's brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe).
3. Her Family
As presented in Dickinson, Dickinson's father was a successful lawyer in Amherst, Massachusetts, before becoming a politician. He was elected to the Senate and House of Representatives as a Whig, and as he mentions in the show, his primary platform when getting into politics was bringing a railroad to his town.
Austin followed directly in his father's footsteps, taking over his father's law practice and position at Amherst College. He also lived in a home right next door to the Dickinson house with Sue, as alluded to in the show. Sadly, Emily's sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) is known for her fascination with marriage in Dickinson, but in reality, she never married nor moved out of her parents' home.
4. Her Suitor
In Dickinson, Emily constantly shoots down the advances of George Gould (Samuel Farnsworth), one of Austin's classmates who is infatuated with her. Gould was actually a real person and seemed to be a potential suitor for Emily Dickinson; she even wrote letters to him.
Despite all of these accurate details, though, there are still several parts of the new show that take artistic license in telling Dickinson's story. Most notably, Dickinson is infamously understood now to have been a recluse, often remaining holed up in her room and refusing to speak to others. Although this understanding of Dickinson has recently been contended, the new series completely flies in the face of her most commonly known trait, instead portraying Dickinson as an outgoing, lively prankster who loves to throw parties.
It seems like Dickinson is much more concerned with telling a unique and fun coming-of-age story rather than trying to depict the most accurate history of Emily Dickinson possible, so it is best to just enjoy the ride. Dickinson is streaming now on Apple TV+.