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Dickinson, Emily (1830-1886)  
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Yet she did not shy from acknowledging their power in writing: She told Elizabeth Holland once, "shame is so intrinsic to a strong affection we must all experience Adam's reticence." After Samuel Bowles returned from a seven-month visit to Europe, Dickinson apologized for refusing to see him: "Did I not want to see you? Do not the Phebes want to come? They of little faith!" And when Sue returned from a two-week vacation, the poet wrote, "I cannot see you for a few days. You are too momentous. But remember it is idolatry and not indifference."

Dickinson was particularly cagey with Sue and Bowles because she was in love with each at various points, perhaps even with both at once during the late 1850s. Her relationship with Sue has barely been assessed, but critics have been scrutinizing the "Master" letters since the 1940s, trying to determine their addressee (many believe Bowles to have been he though the evidence is not conclusive).

Regardless of whether he is the "Master," Bowles appears to have been an object of Dickinson's love from the late 1850s to the early 1860s. During these years, she sent him several poems alluding to their impending celestial marriage and the martyrdom with which she was currently earning it. Some of the poems she prefaced with remarks indicating they were addressed to him include the following: "Title divine -- is mine! / The Wife -- without the Sign!...," "Through the strait pass of suffering / The Martyrs -- even -- trod...," "Victory comes late / And is held low to freezing lips...," and "Speech is a prank of Parliament...." Many of her letters to him from this period are so tenderly cryptic that they may as well be love poems, but after about 1864 she addressed him with more affection than ardor.

By contrast, Dickinson's passion for Sue extended from 1851 until her own death, and despite many vacillations in both women's feelings, Sue also remained her primary audience, receiving 267 poems, or nearly three times the amount sent to any other correspondent.

The poet probably met Sue at Amherst Academy in the late 1840s. Judging from Dickinson's early letters, the two were close from the start, sharing their love of literature and nature, and their complaints about the steady round of housework. Both yearned for a more romantic existence, and the poet fantasized about establishing a haven with Sue, regarding her, by the mid-1850s, as some combination of a soul mate and ideal mother. She appears to have trusted Sue absolutely, divulging her hopes and fears about religion, marriage, her family, her own character, her visions of the future, and most of all, her passionate love for "Susie."

Sue does appear to have had similar tastes and temperament, and to have reciprocated Dickinson's love initially, but she apparently began to feel suffocated by the poet's demands for attention once she became engaged to Austin Dickinson. This event precipitated an inexplicable two-year gap in their correspondence, after which the poet approached Sue with a mixture of love and apprehension.

Once Sue and Austin moved into a house next door to her in 1857 and the two women resumed corresponding, Dickinson began using poetry to mediate her expression of love and pain, developing the intimate but oblique, note-in-a-bottle voice characterizing many of her greatest poems.

She wrote to Sue with a complex variety of intentions--to amuse her, to impress her, to woo her, to baffle her, to hurt her, to elicit guilt, to solicit criticism, or probably, most often, with some combination of these. Anxious to affirm her affection, yet keep her distance, the poet often addressed Sue as if she were a goddess, in notes such as these: "Susan's Idolator keeps a Shrine for Susan," or "Susan knows that she is a Siren -- and that at a word from her, Emily would forfeit Righteousness."

Dickinson was clearly in love with her: Her letters to Sue beat with a passion surpassing even notions of friendship held by a less era. Caroll Smith-Rosenberg has shown that nineteenth-century women's friendships lent themselves to a wide range of expression, so that letters that raised no eyebrows then seem erotically charged to us.

Even so, Dickinson's early descriptions of feeling hot and feverish at the thought of seeing "Susie," her insistence that Susie's absence "insanes" her, her designation of Sue as her "absent Lover," and her fantasies of holding her, kissing her, and looking into her eyes, as well as many remarks in later notes, suggest that, on the continuum where expressions of love and affection reside, Dickinson tips the scales toward .

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