A new feminist comedy series about the acclaimed 19th century poet is in the works.
“Because I could not stop for Death – / He kindly stopped for me – / The Carriage held but just ourselves – / And immortality.”
Emily Dickinson, the 19th century American poet considered an inspiration to generations of feminist artists and writers, is known for many things: her penchant for dressing entirely in white, her eccentricity, and her reclusiveness (she regularly refused to meet friends face-to-face, instead talking to them through a closed door). She is less often described as funny – but a new comedy series aims to change that.
Oscar-nominated actor and singer Hailee Steinfeld has signed up to star as Dickinson in a new Apple TV series about the poet’s coming-of-age years, Vulture reports. Titled Dickinson, the show is described as a comedy that “explores the constraints of society, gender and family from the perspective of a budding writer who doesn’t fit in to her own time through her imaginative point of view”, and will be set in the mid-19th century with a “modern sensibility and tone”.
Steinfeld, 21, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2011, for her role in the Coen brothers’ Western True Grit. Since then, she has appeared in movies including the second and third Pitch Perfect films and critically-acclaimed drama The Edge of Seventeen, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe.
She has also pursued a music career, releasing her first EP Haiz in 2015. Many of her songs are notable for their youthful pop-feminist sensibility: 2015 single Love Myself is a not-especially-thinly-veiled ode to the joys of female masturbation, while last year’s Most Girls sees Steinfeld rejecting a man who attempts to compliment her by saying she’s “not like most girls” (“Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful… I wanna be like most girls,” Steinfeld retorts).
While some Dickinson purists might wince at the idea of a young pop star playing their poetic idol, Steinfeld’s casting is something of a genius move. For starters, she’s a very talented actor – but it’s also striking that the series will focus on Dickinson’s formative years. In 2016, Cynthia Nixon played the poet in acclaimed biopic A Quiet Passion, but no film or TV series has previously focused exclusively on Dickinson as a young woman.
And Dickinson’s adolescence is arguably one of the most intriguing periods of her life. She became increasingly reclusive from the age of 25, but was relatively active and sociable as a teenager, studying extensively at Amherst Academy in Massachusetts and befriending several men and women who became mentor figures. In early 1850, aged 20, she wrote that her hometown was “alive with fun” – a side of the sombre poet rarely seen in later life.
Dickinson has also long been beloved by a certain kind of teenage girl for her sly rebelliousness, emotional honesty and unconventional persona, while her later isolation is often held up by feminist literary critics as an example of what happens when female brilliance is suppressed. Here’s hoping that Dickinson will do her story justice.
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