Nancy A. Walker
The Homestead, the Amherst, Massachusetts, house in which Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, had been built seventeen years earlier by her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson. With the exception of fifteen years during her childhood and early adulthood when the family lived on North Pleasant Street and a year ( 1847-1848) at Mt. Holyoke College, the Homestead was the only place that Dickinson lived, and a place that, as she grew into maturity, she was increasingly reluctant to leave. Although much has been made of Dickinson's reclusiveness, it can be seen as merely an extreme form of a familial tendency to stasis. For 200 years before Dickinson's birth, her ancestors had lived in New England, refusing to succumb to the lure of western lands. When Emily's brother Austin married Susan Gilbert in 1856, the couple settled in the house next door to the Homestead, the Evergreens; and like Emily, her younger sister, Lavinia (known as Vinnie), remained at the Homestead rather than marrying and starting her own family elsewhere.
If the shape of a life is measured by movement from place to place, the establishment of a family, and--in the case of a writer--the composition and publication of one's work, then Dickinson's life would seem quite unremarkable. But the first line of her poem #632, "The Brain--is wider than the Sky--," is one of the many indications in Dickinson's work that, in the words of Suzanne Juhasz, "to live in the mind is to be most thoroughly alive" ( Continent26). And in fact, to grow up in Amherst in the decades before the Civil War was to experience a vibrant intellectual atmosphere. Amherst Academy was founded in 1814, and Emily Dickinson's grandfather helped to found Amherst College in 1821. Dickinson's family ties to Amherst College were particularly close: Em-