“Dickinson” Season 2 gets straight to the point with its opening narration: While there are many letters and accounts of Emily Dickinson’s life leading up to the wedding of Sue (Ella Hunt) and Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe), there’s not much historical evidence about what came after. Only a handful of letters exist, which means it’s up to us — and showrunner Alena Smith — to piece together Emily’s continuing story.
Season 2 largely centers on Emily wrestling with her anxiety over being published; to this end, one of the new characters we meet is Springfield Republican owner and editor-in-chief Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones). Bowles strikes up a friendship with Emily after meeting her at a party hosted by Sue and Austin, and spends most of the first three episodes trying to convince her to share her work with the world. The opening montage of the first episode makes it clear that either Bowles or the paper itself (or possibly both) will play a crucial role over the course of the season.
So does any of that have a basis in reality? Well, though like we said the specific details are known thanks to the lack of documentation, the answer is absolutely yes — and the relationship between Emily and Samuel was extremely significant for both of them.
Bowles is best remembered for helping turn the Springfield Republican into one of the most influential papers of its era, and for his role in the founding and early rise of the Republican Party. (The Republican is also, no really, the likely origin of the honorific Ms. as its understood in modern times.) But he really did know Emily, and he met her the same way they meet in the show: at Sue and Austin’s home. In Susan Dickinson’s writings, “Annals of The Evergreens,” she remembers Bowles “as the first guest in our newly married home.” In those same writings, Sue talks at length about how her friendship with Bowles was lifelong.
According to letters and accounts, Emily began writing to Bowles soon after she met him. She shared dozens of poems with him, which is an aspect of their relationship that does differ in the show: Emily is hesitant to share her work with the world, much less Bowles.
There are also conflicting reports that Emily and Bowles were closer than just good friends. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, “although scholars generally agree that Dickinson’s relationship with Bowles was one of the most significant in her life, interpretations of the nature of their friendship vary. While some feel he is a primary candidate for the Master figure mentioned in three of her poems, others argue he was simply a close friend whom she trusted enough to share her deepest troubles.”
Just how close their relationship will become remains to be seen over the course of season 2, but one thing’s for certain: Bowles will be an important figure in Emily’s world, just as he was in real life.