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The Belle of Amherst (1976) by William Luce (Summary)

When the poets of the 19th century are discussed upon, a name that admittedly comes forward, is that of “Emily Dickinson.” One cannot deny that she was a very innovative poet of her time but everyone would agree that she was an insensitive woman. Describing her life through words does not make our task much easy, but to see her life passing through the screen, right in front of our eyes is something different.

“The Belle of Amherst” was a 1976 play that showcased the life of Emily Dickinson, making use of whatever documents were available, to highlight her life, her relationships with other people, the moments of grief and joy that she came across. The play lasts for a period of 90 minutes, and was a live broadcast of a one-woman performance, thus the sole star in the whole play was “Julie Harris” who portrayed Emily Dickinson’s character and the others in the play.

As the play begins the audience is invited to Dickinson’s home, Emily is spotted to be a fifty year old lady, who still has the innocence and vibe of a small child. The discussion of her special recipe of black cake is interrupted as Emily takes a trip down her memory and tells her about her life, introducing herself as a poet, who is ambitioned to write poetry under her own name, she informs the audience that she has versed and published seven poems under an anonymous name. As Emily gets talking, she flawlessly moves in and out of her past, she does not hesitate in acquainting the audience to all members of her family. As she brings back memories her former life is revealed like an open book. Slowly she brings forward each member of her family, she speaks of her brother Austin with great enthusiasm and liking, her sister Lavinia is described as the one who looked after her like an older sister should, Emily shows mixed expressions towards her father, and lastly she seems to be reserved about her mother, just expressing sketchy details about her.

As the play nears its ultimate end, Emily expresses her unfinished goal in life to make her verses read under her own very name, and spread her words to people all around. Emily also states how Professor Higginson’s critical analysis on her poetry left her heart broken, but she did not give her hopes up. As the play comes to an end, she invites the audience to visit her some other time to hear out her poetry and even to give comments on the recipe of black cake.

This movie has truly highlighted, and has brought a picture perfect portrayal of a really receptive Emily Dickinson. Emily has written approximately over 1,500 poems and exhibiting all her poetry in a single movie would not be humanly possible. However, The Belle of Amherst has done enough justice to bring audiences with a through description of Emily Dickinson’s nature and character, her past endeavors, her family and friends, and shows her as a still determined woman who is yet looking forward to write even more poetry, this time under her own name.

Emily Dickinson who was born on the 10th of December, 1830, was the granddaughter of Samuel Dickinson, a man who founded the Amherst College. So, it is very clear that she came from a scholarly family, she is described as a well civilized girl, Emily at an early aged showed that she had a liking for “moosic”, is what she called the piano at a young age over which she had a particular endowment. As Emily grew she was introduced to the verses of William Wordsworth, Benjamin Franklin Newton, a good friend of her father, was the man whose influence brought Emily to the field of poetry and led to her career in it, she always spoke of Newton as her mentor.

In her poetry Emily brought together many themes including flowery gardens, where she is seen immersed in a dream land, a fantasy. These poems were the real expressions of her emotions, many of her poems were directed to a certain Sir or Master, this could be guessed to be one of Emily’s loved one. Emily from a young age was familiar with the Bible, thus many of her verses reflect themes inspired from the Gospel.

The few of Emily’s works that made it to publication were often edited, Emily’s verses were truly one of a kind, which did not follow the usual poetic rules of that time. Emily Dickinson broke all those boundaries, writing untitled poems, which were off rhymed, and contained exceptionally, unique punctuation. They Emily kept writing poetry privately fewer of her works were truly published, those too not under her name, and even though her closed ones were aware of her writing skills, Emily earned a name for herself after her death in 1886.

The Belle of Amherst was an approximately 90 minute play by William Luce, was directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. Julie Harris portrayed fifteen different characters in the play which was really astonishing and earned her a Tony Award in the category of Best Actress for the play.

Julia Ann Harris was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, to a nurse, Elise L., and a banker, William Pickett Harris. Julie Harris has had a very successful career throughout in which she earned her self five Tony awards and three Emmys, which were very well deserved. Julie stared in some famous films like, East of Eden (1955), Reflections in A Golden Eye (1967), her most notable role can very well be that of Emily Dickinson in this play we are discussing. Julie Harris was the perfect choice to play Emily Dickinson, and she gave a new life to the character of the famous poet of the 19th century.

The play has been described by many as perfect blend of Emily Dickinson’s poetry into the dialogues of the play, one could just close his eyes and still be entertained by the flow of poetry along with the dialogues. The play is available on DVD and is a must get, if you want to enrich your eyes and mind with a taste of the biography of Emily Dickinson, a name that will live on with her poetry. So don’t miss out on this it would make a great addition to a collection of movies and would enhance the view of students, if played on campus, on the character of Emily Dickinson.


Source by Zeeshan Naveed Bari

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