the View

UB Dickinson expert weighs in on Apple TV+ series on the poet

Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson in the Apple TV series, "Dickinson.".

Hailee Steinfeld stars as Emily Dickinson in the Apple TV+ series "Dickinson."

By JACKIE HAUSLER

Published October 31, 2019

headshot of Cristanne Miller.
“Dickinson was witty, brilliant, well-educated and irreverent. This, together with the fact that she wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language, make her a natural protagonist for a TV series.”
Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor of Literature
Department of English

Apple TV+ makes its debut on Nov. 1, hoping to attract on-demand video streaming subscribers in part with a series surrounding the life of one of America’s most popular poets: Emily Dickinson.

UB faculty member and Dickinson scholar Cristanne Miller agrees the poet makes a good subject for a TV series.

“Dickinson was witty, brilliant, well-educated and irreverent,” says Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor of Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences. “This, together with the fact that she wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language, make her a natural protagonist for a TV series.”

The series provides an opportunity for viewers to explore Dickinson’s unconventional life choices and her ambition to write great poetry during the mid-1800s — a time when few women chose to devote their lives to writing, flouting other expectations for women.

“If the rules aren’t fair, break them … ‘Dickinson’ is a half-hour comedy series that audaciously explores the constraints of society, gender and family from the perspective of the rebellious young poet,” according to the show’s description on Apple.com.

“As a scholar, my first response to every creative venture is factual,” Miller says. “Emily Dickinson’s primary rebellion against expectations was enacted quietly: She chose not to marry and to live at home, giving as much of her time as possible — after housework and cooking — to writing poetry.

“As a girl, however, she had a close group of friends with whom she engaged in lots of unusual activities — and these do make for a lively story of unconventional girlhood and young womanhood,” she says. “It looks like ‘Dickinson’ will be fun.”

The works of Emily Dickinson are a focus of Miller’s career. Her publication on the poet include “Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar” (Harvard University Press), “Reading In Time: Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century” (University of Massachusetts Press) and “Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them” (Belknap Press), which won the 2017 MLA Scholarly Edition Prize.