An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia

By Jane Donahue Eberwein | Go to book overview

D

DAGUERREOTYPE In 1862, when Thomas Wentworth Higginson asked Dickinson for a photograph of herself, he was making a gesture expected by the etiquette of the era: offering his correspondent an opportunity to place herself on display in his photograph album. Used to facilitate conversation in the parlor, albums like Higginson's were typically filled with small, mass-produced photographic keepsakes known as cartes de visite -- "the social currency, the sentimental 'green-backs' of civilization," as Oliver Wendell Holmes called them. These owed their vogue to the invention, in 1854, of the fully transparent photographic negative. Until then, the only practical photographic system had been the daguerreotype, whose direct-positive images were impossible to produce in multiple copies.

The daguerreotype, invented in 1839 and named for its coinventor, the French artist Jacques Daguerre, worked by depositing a film of mercury on photosensitized areas of a polished silver surface. When viewed straight on, the resulting mirrorlike image was beautiful, with brilliant whites and rich, deep blacks. But it was also elusive. As Phoebe says in Hawthorne The House of the Seven Gables, daguerreotypes had the disadvantage of "dodging away from the eye, and trying to escape altogether." They were also expensive, physically delicate, and unique. Perhaps Emily Dickinson felt at home among them.

At any rate, Dickinson declined Higginson's request (L268), and the only known photograph of Dickinson is a daguerreotype currently believed to have been taken in Amherst about 1847. In its original state or in numerous retouched versions, this is the source of all other portraits of the poet as an adult. In addition to discussing the history of this image, Longsworth reproduces the three other known portraits of Dickinson: a painting and two silhouettes, all executed when she was a young girl.

In his 1974 biography, Sewall reproduces a mysterious fifth image: a carte

-61-

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An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chronology xv
  • Abbreviations xix
  • A 1
  • B 13
  • C 38
  • D 61
  • E 92
  • F 107
  • G 122
  • H 131
  • I 154
  • J 162
  • K 169
  • L 171
  • M 188
  • N 205
  • O 218
  • P 222
  • R 243
  • S 256
  • T 279
  • U 294
  • V 296
  • W 301
  • Y 311
  • Appendix A - Fascicle Listings of Dickinson Poems 313
  • Appendix B - Major Archival Collections for Dickinson Research 339
  • Bibliography 343
  • Index of Poems Cited 361
  • General Index 371
  • About the Contributors 387
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