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The Case for Otis Lord

John Evangelist Walsh

Publication Year: 2012

From the award-winning author of Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe comes a compelling argument for the identity of Emily Dickinson’s true love Proud of my broken heartSince thou didst break it,Proud of the pain IDid not feel till thee . . . Those words were written by Emily Dickinson to a married man. Who was he? For a century or more the identity of Emily Dickinson’s mysterious “Master” has been eagerly sought, especially since three letters from her to him were found and published in 1955. In Emily Dickinson in Love, John Evangelist Walsh provides the first book-length treatment of this fascinating subject, offering a solution based wholly on documented facts and the poet’s own writings. Crafting the affair as a love story of rare appeal, and writing with exquisite attention to detail, in Part I Walsh reveals and meticulously proves the Master to be Otis Lord, a friend of the poet’s father and a man of some reputation in law and politics. Part II portrays the full dimensions of their thirty-year romance, most of it clandestine, including a series of secret meetings in Boston. After uncovering and confirming the Master’s identity, Walsh fits that information into known events of Emily’s life to make sense of facts long known but little understood—Emily’s decision to dress always in white, for instance, or her extreme withdrawal from a normal existence when she had previously been an active, outgoing friend to many men and women. In a lengthy section of Notes and Sources, Walsh presents his proofs in abundant detail, demonstrating that the evidence favors one man so irresistibly that there is left no room for doubt. Each reader will decide if he has truly succeeded in making the case for Otis Lord.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xii

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Prologue: A Puzzlement

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pp. 1-5

Though she was a plain-looking woman, Emily Dickinson managed to interest and even fascinate a goodly number of men both young and old. Small and thin, standing barely an inch or two over five feet, weighing when young...

I: The Unmasking

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pp. 7-54

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1. Twenty Old Letters: A Reconstructed Episode

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pp. 9-18

Scattered along the wooden platform of the Amherst train depot stood a small crowd of men and women, all waiting for the early morning train up to Boston. Conspicuous was a tall, distinguished figure...

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2. The Wildest Word

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pp. 19-27

On the evening of May 16, 1886, the body of the fifty-five-year-old Emily Dickinson lay in an open coffin in the library of the family home in Amherst. Three days before, she had lapsed into a coma, the latest of several such attacks...

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3. The Knee that Bore Her Once

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pp. 28-42

In Emily’s dainty fingers during the years 1858 and 1859 there was poised for a good part of almost every day a pen or a pencil. As is evident from what survives, during the course of those years she didn’t slacken her always busy...

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4. Oh Gaudy Heart!

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pp. 43-54

To judge by its frequency and the functions assigned it, Emily’s favorite poetic image pictures her own heart as a separate entity, a living organism in and of itself. As the links in a chain, seven of her poems built...

II: The Love Affair

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pp. 55-118

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5. Hunting for the Day

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pp. 57-81

Dressed in a light brown frock with a fashionably tight bodice and a billowing, floor-length skirt, at the sound of the knocker Emily came down the wide hall to the front door. Outside, she guessed as she reached for the knob...

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6. Bridal Gown

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pp. 82-96

"My first definite memory of Aunt Emily,” recalled Martha Bianchi, Sue’s daughter, “is of her coming to the door to meet me in her white dress—looking to me just like another little girl—when I was to be left with her...

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7. Basking in Bethlehem

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pp. 97-111

The young man, a student at Amherst College named William Mather, came hurrying down the Main Street sidewalk, and at the Dickinson house he turned in. Sent with a message for Miss Vinnie...

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8. Aetherial Throng

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pp. 112-118

Lying on her bed comatose, her breathing loud, rasping, and ragged, from about 10 a.m. on May 13 to about 6 p.m. on May 15: this is not the way death ordinarily comes for the unfortunate victim of Bright’s disease...


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pp. 119

Appendix A: Mrs. Lord's Diary

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pp. 121-124

Appendix B: The Master Letters

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pp. 125-147

Appendix C: The Last White Dress

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pp. 149-152


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pp. 153

Notes and Sources

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pp. 155-192

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 193-194


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pp. 195-198

Index to Poems

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pp. 199-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553375
E-ISBN-10: 0813553377
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813552750
Print-ISBN-10: 0813552753

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 32 illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lord, Otis P. (Otis Phillips), 1812-1884 -- Relations with women.
  • Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886 -- Relations with men.
  • Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886 -- Family.
  • Poets, American -- 19th century -- Biography.
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