The Belle of Amherst Summary & Study Guide

William Luce
This Study Guide consists of approximately 39 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Belle of Amherst.
This section contains 509 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Belle of Amherst Summary & Study Guide Description

The Belle of Amherst Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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The Belle of Amherst is a whimsical one-woman show based on the life of Emily Dickinson. Told in two acts, this play gives a voice to one of America's most enigmatic and eccentric poets. Drawing largely from Emily's poetry and letters, The Belle of Amherst is a breathing autobiography of a true nonconformist. For years, scholars have theorized that Emily Dickinson had some form of mental illness. This play gives Emily the chance to answer those scholars in person. Using a stream of conscious flow of poetry and musings, Emily Dickinson is brought to life before the very eyes of her audience.

Emily Dickinson, a child-like fifty-three-year-old woman, welcomes the audience to her home with her special recipe for black cake. She asks the audience's forgiveness for any fear on her part and launches into the recipe for her cake. Right away, Emily identifies herself as a poet. She also reveals that the entire town thinks of her as "Squire Edward's half-cracked daughter." Emily confides that it is all an act.

According to Emily, her running from the neighbors, sending odd little notes, and surprising would-be sightseers, is simply a way for her to enjoy her "menagerie," which is what she calls the villagers. Now that she has set the record straight about her own quirky behavior, Emily moves on to discussing more important matters. Emily is a poet. She explains that she has published seven poems anonymously, so she prefers to introduce herself as a poet. Emily talks of her family and her childhood. She seamlessly moves in and out of her past and present as she brings her family and the people who have influenced her to life.

In Emily's discussions of her past, the audience learns that Emily hasn't always been so shy and retiring. She paints a picture of a normal childhood and a bit of rebellion in her teen aged years. She talks of her brother Austin, who she feels is the one person who knows her through and through. She talks of her younger sister Lavinia and how Lavinia looks after her as though she were a small child. She talks about her father with a mixture of respect, love, resentment, and hope. She speaks of her mother in a more reserved fashion, never giving anything away except that she cared for her mother during her mother's illness and the shock of her mother's death.

Emily speaks of her goal to be published under her own name and how crushed she was at Professor Higginson's critique of her poetry. After Mr. Higginson's heartbreaking remarks, Emily admits that she still writes poetry, just not as much as she used to. She feels that the people who should be listening to her poetry, like Mr. Higginson, are deaf to artistry. Her failed publishing career or her failed romantic entanglements do not daunt Emily. Instead, she chooses to share her world with the audience and invites them to come back and visit and let her know how they like the cake recipe.

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