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Hanrahan, Heidi M.: "'My friends are my ‘estate’': Emily Dickinson’s Facebook Friends"

“My friends are my ‘estate’”: Emily Dickinson’s Facebook Friends

Heidi M. Hanrahan, Shepherd University

In an 1858 letter to Samuel Bowles, Emily Dickson writes, “My friends are my ‘estate.’ Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them.” A quick visit to Emily Dickinson’s Facebook page (maintained by Random House) shows that, at least on the popular social media site, Dickinson’s estate of “friends” is thriving: over 100,000 users have “liked” Dickinson. In January 2013 alone, nearly 7,500 people posted on, discussed, shared, or linked to her page. As users discuss Dickinson’s poems, link to articles about her work, post their own poems and artwork, and share their personal experiences with Dickinson’s texts, they provide scholars with a truly twenty-first century version of “Emily Dickinson, World Citizen.” In this essay, I show how Dickinson’s Facebook page serves as a global, multilingual, multimedia space where her work continues to influence readers as they also construct and respond to the dynamic online persona of “Emily Dickinson.”

Certainly, Dickinson studies have always been at the forefront of the digital humanities. In a 2002 American Literature article, Martha Nell Smith writes, “…new media, and the new critical technologies they produce, require that we scrutinize anew how our items of knowledge come into being, who makes them, and for what purposes.” Although Smith is particularly concerned with questions of textual editing, her comments here and elsewhere encourage scholars to look for ways that technology democratizes knowledge, giving new readers access to texts, expanding what sorts of texts we can talk about, and creating new communities of interpretation. Ultimately, my discussion of Dickinson’s Facebook page demonstrates how social media sites can play a unique (if sometimes problematic) role in literary studies, opening up these democratic spaces, simultaneously changing and expanding Dickinson’s “estate.”