“You’ll be the only Dickinson they talk about in two hundred years”: Queer Celebrity, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, A Quiet Passion, Wild Nights with Emily, and Apple TV+'s Dickinson

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Abstract

Drawing on recent scholarship that identifies continuities between past and
present celebrity cultures, this essay provides a new way of interconnecting
Dickinson’s complex response to nineteenth-century celebrity and her twenty-first-century celebrity status. It argues that examining Dickinson’s appropriation of her era’s celebrity discourse to create her defiant authorial identity helps illuminate aspects of her representation in recent biopics that foreground her queer iconicity. Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s correspondence reveals her fascination with celebrity and exemplifies the ways in which in her lifetime she constructed her notability among a coterie of admirers by defying expectations determining public success and failure and conventions separating public and private figures. Originally outside the public view, Dickinson’s defiance as a poet and person has subsequently become a signature aspect of her posthumous reputation, with recent films such as A Quiet Passion (2016) and Wild Nights with Emily (2018), and the Apple TV+ series Dickinson (2019-2021) developing the insights of biographical and critical studies that emphasize her gender and sexual non-conformity. These visual works highlight a rebellious Dickinson’s availability to endorse queer lives and experiences and her growing status as an LGBTQ+ icon. Viewed in the context of Dickinson’s negotiations with nineteenth-century celebrity culture, these works can also be said to grapple with her queer celebrity: her position as an anomalous figure whose twenty-first-century popularity stems from her shunning of nineteenth-century mass-media attention and her disordering, or queering, in her writings of its distinctions between publicity and privacy to curate her circumscribed renown.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalThe Emily Dickinson Journal
Volume31
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2022

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