The Heart Has Many Doors

The story of Dickinson's romance with Otis Phillips Lord came to light in 1954, when Millicent Todd Bingham published Emily Dickinson, A Revelation. Bingham, daughter of Mabel Loomis Todd, who had helped publish Dickinson's poems in the 1890's, revealed an Emily Dickinson unfamiliar to most readers.

Among the 1,789 poems the poet left behind after her death in 1886 were drafts and copies of her letters to Lord. Because Dickinson's writings were so intimate, Mabel Todd declined to publish them, until she showed them to Millicent over forty years later. Although many letters had been censored—by whom, we don't know—they disclosed the candor, boldness, and eroticism of a mutual love between a middle-aged private woman in her late forties, and a public man 18 years older who had known her since childhood.

At the heart of this novel I place Emily Dickinson's writing. Readers of Dickinson often fashion their own Emily Dickinson out of both verifiable material and the silken threads that ensnare the heart. I do the same with "Emily Jumbo," who has a permanent abode in my thought, and "Little Phil" Lord, who is, for me, a powerful, complex man, full of passion, humor, and "boundless ways."

Cover photograph: South Parlor, Dickinson Homestead, (detail) Amherst Massachusetts, c.1999, Jerome Liebling with permission of the estate of Jerome Liebling. Cover design by Elizabeth Pols.


All of the characters in The Heart Has Many Doors are based on people who knew Emily Dickinson. Here are images of Emily's parents, Edward and Emily; her brother Austin and younger sister Vinnie; her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert Dickinson; her nephews Ned and Gib; her niece Martha (Mattie); and the servants Maggie Maher, Tom Kelley, and Margaret Kelley, who worked for the Dickinsons.

Also included is Abbie Farley, Judge Lord's niece, who apparently disapproved of her uncle's closeness to Emily, Mabel Loomis Todd, who was Austin Dickinson's lover from 1882 until his death in 1895, and Elizabeth Lord, the Judge's wife.


What others are saying:

Lovers of Emily Dickinson will find in this novel not the recluse of myth, but a passionate and courageous woman. Susan Snively, a true reader of Emily Dickinson's times, letters, and poetry, opens doors for us into the poet's heart. Readers will be enriched by this love story that was waiting to be told. -Shirley Abbott, author of The Future of Love

Susan Snively's dazzling novel is based on her own pioneering research as well as her own sensibility as a poet. What emerges is a fresh picture of a great poet-living, breathing, and passionately in love. -Christopher Benfey, author of Summer of Hummingbirds

Readers of The Heart Has Many Doors will be completely gripped by Emily Dickinson and Judge Lord's story, and by their two vivid personalities. Susan Snively has created a brilliant portrait of a real, living, throbbing relationship. Her evocative, poetic language is absolutely right for this book. -Kitty Burns Florey, author of The Writing Master

Tender writings found among her poems reveal that Emily Dickinson fell in love in her mid-forties with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, a widower and family friend. With graceful wit and lively imagination, poet Susan Snively has drawn their story from the traces of their intimacy, and from the circumstances of Dickinson family life. Snively's enchanting novel rests firmly on the pure bones of Dickinson idiosyncrasy.  -Polly Longsworth, author of The World of Emily Dickinson and Austin and Mabel

In this boldly imagined and affecting novel, Susan Snively has restored Emily Dickinson to her world, and has beautifully envisioned the romance hinted at by Dickinson's surviving letters. The Heart Has Many Doors is a gift to all who have loved Dickinson's poetry and yet resisted the gossamer legends surrounding her life. With this book, the "myth of Amherst" now vanishes, replaced by a believable woman. -Richard Todd, author of Good Prose: the Art of Nonfiction (with Tracy Kidder)


The Heart Has Many DoorsJumbo and Phil—The Evidence

Selections from The Heart Has Many Doors


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