Lavinia Dickinson’s 1851 Diary

See the 1851 Diary written by Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, in images of the manuscript, at Harvard:

Yesterday, I was searching (yet again) for any diaries written by FANNY (Smith) Seymour (1803-1871) (see my website TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN); what I came up with was a site offering links to Digitized Diaries – on The Diary Index.

There are many names I recognize; many I wish to further explore.

High on the list is this manuscript by Emily Dickinson’s sister. I don’t know about you, but I find the SISTERS of Jane Austen [Cassandra Austen] and Emily Dickinson [Lavinia Dickinson] AS compelling as their more famous siblings.

Three books, on my bookshelves, that peek into the Dickinsons’ household:

  • After Emily, by Julie Dobrow (non-fiction) [2018]
  • Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life, by Marta McDowell (non-fiction) [2019]
  • Emily’s House, by Amy Belding Brown (fiction) [2021]

I picked a page of Labinia’s diary at random, and have no experience of reading her handwriting; however, I am totally intrigued by an entry (for January 15th) which seemed a bit more legible:

“Wrote to Eliza [Elisa?] Coleman.
Went to ride with Mr [Chapin?],
I reverance [sic] him no longer”

I want to KNOW MORE!

But I’m not finding much out there (what am I missing??) that deals with Lavinia’s diary.

There is a 1973 Master’s Thesis by JANICE SPRADLEY McCARTHY, which documents “The Influence of Lavinia Dickinson and Susan Dickinson on Emily Dickinson.”

There is the Dickinson Museum’s biography of Lavinia Dickinson.

There is Desirée Henderson’s chapter in The New Emily Dickinson Studies entitled “Dickinson and the Diary“, which brings up some interesting points.

What I’d really have loved to find is a transcription of Lavinia Dickinson’s 1851 Diary. Alas…

6 comments on “Lavinia Dickinson’s 1851 Diary

  1. DH says:

    Thanks for promoting the Diary Index site and my essay on the Dickinson family diaries. I, too, wish there was a transcription available of Lavinia’s diary — it’s such a shame that one hasn’t been made yet! Cheers to a fellow diary lover!

    • Hi, Desiree – thanks for stopping by!

      Yes, I love your list, and must go back through it. Always fabulous to find diaries that people have put online, whether manuscript (as in the case of the Lavinia Dickinson diary) or transcription.


  2. Melissa Cybulski says:

    Ah, but there IS a transcription of the diary! In Jay Leyda’s “Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson.” The book is pretty scarce, and not digitized as far as I know, but a good scholarly library may have it. I’m in Amherst, MA and work at the Emily Dickinson Museum so it’s easy enough to access. Lavinia’s diary is only one year, but a fascinating and unique glimpse into the sisters’ lives in 1851 when the poet was just 21. They are young and very social!

    • Hi, Melissa – that IS good news to hear. I love working with diaries (and letters). Haven’t done a lot on Dickinson — but am planning on heading down to Amherst for ED’s birthday celebration! So very timely that you have written. And ‘thank you’ for doing so. k

      • Melissa Cybulski says:

        Her birthday party is a fun day, indeed! Though I won’t be here that day. Came upon your blog just now while looking for examples of Lavinia’s handwriting via Google. FYI, Jay Leyda’s book with the transcription is a day by day accounting of the years of Emily’s life. So when a date corresponds with a date in Vinnie’s diary that’s where you’ll see it transcribed. It’s not a stand alone transcription.

      • I’ve tended to pick & choose books to buy (have FAR too many), but will give Leyda a second look. It’s nice that he sought to include the diary. I put Lavinia in a category of “sisters” — like Cassandra Austen — who get overlooked, when _I_ wish more existed on these sisters!

        Ah – it would have been nice to see you on the 10th. Alas…

        I had planned on going down in SUMMER weather (you know New England in December…), but wanted The Evergreens to be open as well. But when seeing the Birthday Bash (and I assume the house is a bit Christmassy?), I could not resist booking a ticket. I’ve never been, so am quite anticipating seeing the house, (are the grounds open?), and hearing more about Emily, Lavinia, and must include Sue. k

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