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Lavinia Dickinson

An often unacknowledged player in the long road to the publication of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is her younger sister, Lavinia, or “Vinnie” as she was known to friends and family. Vinnie’s pride in her brilliant sister was as strong as her devotion to protecting her. When the poet died in 1886, Vinnie burned her sister’s correspondence, as requested, but to her amazement discovered hundreds of poems. Determined to share these with the world, Vinnie spent the next thirteen years successfully urging and cajoling others—Susan Dickinson, Mabel Loomis Todd, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the publishers at Roberts Brothers—to publish her sister’s poems. Without what Dickinson called Vinnie’s “inciting voice” (L827), we would know little or nothing of her great poetry.

Emily Dickinson to Charles H. Clark (L827), mid-June 1883, in The Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1958), 2:334.

Photograph, 1896. Courtesy of Jones Library, Special Collections

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