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TV Series Review

Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive, but we do know a few things about her. She was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She had a brother named Austin and a sister named Lavinia. Her father served in Congress. And she was a prolific writer of poetry, most of which was published posthumously.

But did you also know that she also smoked cigarettes with her buddy, George, cross-dressed as a man to sneak into a college lecture hall, indulged in opium at parties and was in love with her brother’s fiancé?

Yeah, neither did we …

Antics and Obsessions

In pre-Civil War society, the Emily we meet in this Apple TV+ show is considered a “weirdo.” Rather than follow the conventional path of her gender (i.e. marry and become a proper housewife), the poet prefers a life of her own choosing: “I have one purpose on this earth and that is to become a great writer.”

A husband would likely put a stop to that—and she’s had plenty of suitors to choose from. Emily’s mother all but throws men into Emily’s path, who then fall into the crosshairs of her daughter’s absurd antics. (One suitor had a dead mouse dropped into his lap “like a cat.”) Her friend, George, tries to convince her that she can have the best of both worlds, because if she consents to marry him, he’ll ensure that she becomes a published writer.

But alas, even George’s promises of fame aren’t enough to entice Emily into matrimony because, really, she’s in love with someone else. No, it’s not “Death,” who appears to Emily in a black carriage pulled by ghostly horses, though she certainly has a borderline unhealthy obsession with him (as many of her poems indicate). Rather, it’s Sue (her brother’s fiancé) who holds her heart. But since she can’t have her, she’s contented to live out her life as an old maid.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Apple TV+ takes a modern, yet somehow still traditional approach to Emily Dickinson. People dress according to the times, and the hot topics of the day, such as slavery and abolition, are discussed ‘round the dinner table.

But Emily and her friends are anything but traditional.

Where the dialogue of most period pieces would be filled with colloquialisms appropriate to the era, Dickinson could likely be set in 2019 with few script changes. Emily doesn’t bother holding back curse words any more than she does voicing her controversial opinions. She and her siblings enjoy throwing raging house parties when their parents are out of town. And if you thought that these young adults would be modest regarding their sexuality, then you’d be wrong.

Dickinson had all the potential to be a delightful expression of America prior to the Civil War, and a creative-but-period-accurate depiction of one of the country’s most beloved poets. Unfortunately, this bold—and often crass—interpretation of the poet just doesn’t feel genuine and comes off as more of a disappointment than anything.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Plot Summary

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Nov. 1, 2019: “Because I Could Not Stop”



Readability Age Range



Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson; Adrian Enscoe as Austin Dickinson; Anna Baryshnikov as Lavinia Dickinson; Jane Krakowski as Mrs. Dickinson; Toby Huss as Edward Dickinson; Ella Hunt as Sue Gilbert; Chinaza Uche as Henry; Darlene Hunt as Maggie; Samuel Farnsworth as George Gould; Gus Birney as Jane Humphreys






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Emily Baker

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