Emily Dickinson's Ophthalmic Consultation With Henry Willard Williams, MD

Published on Dec 1, 2012in Archives of Ophthalmology
· DOI :10.1001/ARCHOPHTHALMOL.2012.2365
Donald L. Blanchard4
Estimated H-index: 4
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Abstract
Emily Dickinson is one of America's premier poets of the 19th century. Henry Willard Williams, MD, was one of the very first physicians to limit his practice to ophthalmology and was the established leader in his field in Boston, Massachusetts. They met during the time of the Civil War, when Emily consulted him about her ophthalmic disorder. No records of the diagnosis survive. Photophobia, aching eyes, and a restriction in her ability to work up close were her main symptoms. Iritis, exotropia, or psychiatric problems are the most frequent diagnoses offered to explain her difficulties. Rather than attempt a definitive conclusion, this article will offer an additional possibility that Dr Williams likely considered (ie, hysterical hyperaesthesia of the retina). This was a common diagnosis at that time, although it has currently faded from use.
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Lyndall Gordon’s recent biography, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds (2010), tells with high verve the story of generational infighting over poet Emily Dickinson’s posthumous presentation to the world. Equally dramatic is Gordon’s hypothesis that Dickinson suffered from epilepsy, which led Gordon to seemingly solve the ineffable mystery of Dickinson’s reclusion, a conundrum in her own time and still so in ours. Gordon’s startling diagnosis has been commended by book ...
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Lyndall Gordon's recent biography, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds(2010), tells with high verve the story of generational infighting over poet Emily Dickinson's posthumous presentation to the world. Equally dramatic is Gordon's hypothesis that Dickinson suffered from epilepsy, which led Gor- don to seemingly solve the ineffable mystery of Dickinson's reclusion, a conundrum in her own time and still so in ours. Gordon's startling diagnosis has been commended by book...
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