An Interesting Footnote

I’ve been having great fun with a book I got at the Emily Dickinson Museum called Lives Like Loaded Guns by Lyndall Gordon.

The Dickinson family had a grandmother, Lucretia Gunn, who was “tart and ill-tempered.” When anyone said anything nasty, it was excused as Grandma Gunn coming out.

This was probably behind Emily’s line “My life had stood — a Loaded Gun.”

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the Dickinsons. About Austin Dickinson’s well-documented adultery, about Emily’s liaison with her father’s friend Judge Lord (I guess she didn’t ‘die wondering’ as my grandmother would say) and about Emily’s epilepsy.

Gordon makes a good case that epilepsy is what caused Emily to become a recluse, and also what gave her the insight to write immortal poetry.

In a fascinating footnote about epilepsy, Gordon references Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, who describes his epileptic experience in this way: “Yes, for this moment one could give up his whole life.”

Dostoyevsky suggests that ‘the epileptic Mahomet’ had an attack that provided him with his transcendental visions: “In that second he was able to survey all the habitations of Allah.”

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Stephen Hartshorne worked in newspapers and magazines around New England for many years and served as Information Officer in the New Hampshire Senate under Senate President Vesta Roy. He worked as a material handler for nine years at the Yankee Candle Company until the company was taken over by corporate weasels. He is currently the associate editor of, an alternative travel website, which gives him the opportunity to correspond with writers and photographers all over the world. He lives in Sunderland, Massachusetts. This blog is dedicated to his mom, who made him bookish.

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