Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive, eccentric, and a bit odd. But Apple+’s new series, Dickinson, imagines what it would have been like if Dickinson came off like a well adjusted, charismatic pop singer. Hailee Steinfeld plays a vivacious, brazenly rebellious version of Dickinson for those who want their great, 19th century poets to be a little more like Kim Possible. A series with period costume but modern diction, the show’s energetic and many of the actors are cute but comparisons drawn between and now and the 19th century in terms of social and political issues are ham fisted and annoying. The bigger issue is the problem inherent in trying to turn the life of Emily Dickinson into Saved by the Bell. I’m only judging from one episode but so far it’s pretty dispiriting.
A part of me does think, maybe this is good. Maybe this is a way to get young people interested in literature or even, god forbid, anything older than fifteen years. But it’s not just the past that’s obscured and distorted with something like this. The problems a socially awkward person faces go beyond the saturated colours of music video vamping. A young woman who does not like to leave her room is not likely to engage in the kind of lively banter with every hot guy and girl in the neighbourhood in the manner Steinfeld’s version demonstrates.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Is this the girl who responded to her mother with an abrupt, “Bullshit!” at the beginning of the first episode?
Well, so maybe it’s not for me, maybe it’s not for anyone who one would think would best like a series about Emily Dickinson. But maybe a resulting line of fashion accessories and memes, as a slantwise promotion, would be a net good? I guess I may as well hope so.
Twitter Sonnet #1294
Behind the face moustaches grew awry.
The deepest spine could dine at early dawn.
The organ tube at last could just comply.
A suite of games obscures the grassy lawn.
Assorted salads seem to sock the face.
A lettuce slap imputes the greenest palm.
In tumble stairs the weeds descend a place.
The night remains in shards of scattered calm.
A cheeseless day rewards the tumbled foal.
Barrettes encumber carts in fact’ry steel.
As sculpted soap the golems carry coal.
Condensed bananas hide a fruitless meal.
A tally took of ceiling leaves was fruit.
The flower shrinks to make a tiny suit.