After Emily

The Untold Tale of the Women Who Introduced Emily Dickinson to the World


Mabel Loomis Todd.
Mabel Loomis Todd Papers (MS 496C). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

By the fall of 1883, it was the dirty little secret that everyone in the small college town of Amherst, Massachusetts seemed to know. Beautiful, young and ambitious Mabel Loomis Todd was in love with Austin Dickinson, scion of a venerable old New England family. Mabel once wrote in her journal of their relationship, “I have read a great many stories, and I have had a good many love letters, and I have heard a good many lovers talk, but I never heard or read or imagined such a wonderful…or so divine a love as he has for me.  No souls were ever so united, no love story approaches it.”

Austin Dickinson
Austin Dickinson

But Mabel and Austin were married – to other people.  Austin, who was almost three decades older than Mabel, was also the brother of the reclusive and brilliant Emily Dickinson. Mabel came to know Emily through her relationship with Austin. And she came to know Emily’s unique poetry. After Emily died it was Mabel who first  brought Emily’s poetry to print, Mabel who conceived an original plan to market the unusual verse and Mabel who launched the image of the secluded poet garbed in white we still know today.

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

What we don’t know is the story of the ways in which Mabel’s controversial work editing and promoting Emily’s poetry figured into a complicated web of relationships between members of the Dickinson family and the Todds that lasted for generations.

After Emily is a mother/daughter biography of Mabel and her only child, Millicent Todd Bingham. This book tells the story of Mabel’s thirteen year-long love affair with Austin and how this relationship led her to the Emily Dickinson work that defined her career and her life.  It will be published by W.W. Norton & Company in October, 2018.


Their relationship also complicated Mabel’s already complex relationship with Millicent, especially when, years after Austin had died, Mabel turned to Millicent and asked her for help in bringing out a new edition of Emily’s poetry and letters to mark the centenary of her birth. The multifaceted passions in both Mabel and Millicent’s lives ultimately resulted in controversies over the editing and ownership of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, in her papers being split up, and in battles over the right to define the so-called “Belle of Amherst.” This is a story that has never before been fully told.


Todd Family Through the Years Slideshow

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Excerpts from Advance Reviews of After Emily:

An elegant recovery of the two women without whom “Because I could not stop for Death” likely wouldn’t be required reading for American high school students…The author reduces neither woman to her devotion to Dickinson. She attends to their professional accomplishments, world travels, marriages, and passion for conservation. The book, then, is about the Belle of Amherst, but it is also about being a working woman, a mother, and a daughter. All entries in the voluminous literature on Dickinson are controversial…One hopes the controversy will simply bring increased attention to Dobrow’s fresh, remarkable account.”
Kirkus starred review, June 2018

“Dobrow authoritatively traces the torturous editorial and publication process that first brought Dickinson’s work to public attention, and sensitively explores her subjects’ interior lives…Impeccably researched.”
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“Dobrow’s skillful account of Mabel’s and Millicent’s lives makes this page-turner a must-read for the poet’s most ardent fans.”
Library Journal starred review, August 2018
” Scholarly arguments about how Mabel Loomis Todd and her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, handled Emily Dickinson’s work during their years of editing and compiling the nearly 1800 poems discovered after Dickinson’s death will continue. But thanks to Tufts University professor Dobrow’s astonishing new research, readers gain a better understanding of their efforts…Dobrow’s intimate portrait of these artistically talented and intelligent women, based largely on their extensive, detailed diaries and correspondence, reveals fallible women who painstakingly attempted to share an extraordinary poet’s vision.”
Booklist starred review, October 1 2018

” Dobrow’s portrayal of both women is insightful, generous, careful, and absolutely wonderful to read, immersing the reader in a world long past where bolts of melody (a line from a Dickinson poem) pierce the mundane and lift the soul to greatness. After Emily is an essential contribution not just to Dickinsonian scholarship but to understanding the forces of a hundred years of American history, forces that shaped the lives of women even as they were shaping the world around them. Dobrow’s beautiful prose is a joy to the ear, her thoughtful relationship to her subjects is delightfully captured, and the peeks throughout into the mind of Emily Dickinson are a revelation, even as her exploration of her two main characters is a valuable addition to women’s biography that will offer much to scholars and pleasure readers alike.”
– Misty Urban, in Femmeliterate, October 6 2018

“Dobrow has succeeded in illuminating more fully than ever before the intricate net of desires, both conscious and unconscious, that led Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham to undertake the editing of Emily Dickinson’s writings. In Dobrow’s rendering, biography fuses with American tragedy. After Emily is a book for and of our time: a meditation on the nature of agency and the role of affect in women’s lives and writing.”
— Marta Werner, author of Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios

“Riveting, unblinkered, sad, and brave, AFTER EMILY makes the case for these two posthumous amanuenses as urgent agents of critical work we came so near to losing.” 

– Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Hiddensee

“Julie Dobrow has crafted a meticulously researched work  that is both an insightful literary appreciation and a compelling period drama.”

– Neal Shapiro, President and CEO, WNET/Channel 13 New York

Mabel Loomis Todd, Millicent Todd Bingham, and the Making of America’s Greatest Poet