The Belle of Amherst

The Belle of Amherst is a one-woman play by William Luce.

The Belle of Amherst
Written byWilliam Luce
CharactersEmily Dickinson
Date premieredApril 28, 1976 (1976-04-28)
Place premieredLongacre Theatre
New York City
Original languageEnglish

Based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson from 1830 to 1886, and set in her Amherst, Massachusetts home, the 1976 play makes use of her work, diaries, and letters to recollect her encounters with the significant people in her life – family, close friends, and acquaintances. It balances the agony of her seclusion with the brief bright moments when she was able to experience some joy.

After one preview, the original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre, where it ran for 116 performances.[1] The Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote "With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit."[2]

Harris, who portrayed 15 different characters in the play, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production[3] and extensively toured the country with the play for a number of years.[4][5]

Dickinson biographer Lyndall Gordon criticized the play for perpetuating Mabel Loomis Todd's chaste, hermit-like image of Dickinson, as opposed to the lively, witty, provocative, and sometimes erotic Dickinson present in her work and known to those who knew her more personally.[6]

The Spanish translation of the play was done by Argentinean poet Silvina Ocampo for the Buenos Aires premiere starring China Zorrilla on January 1981. The production ran for more than 500 performances and Zorrilla embarked on a Latin American tour that ended at New York's Hunter College[7] in 1983 and Washington's Kennedy Center. With Emily, the Uruguayan actress made a triumphant comeback to her country after 10 years of proscription for political reasons.[8]


  1. Gussow, Mel."Stage: 'Belle of Amherst'; Julie Harris Portrays Emily Dickinson" The New York Times (abstract), April 29, 1976
  2. Hischak, Thomas S. and Bordman, Gerald Martin."Act Two, 1975-1984"American theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000 (2001), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-512347-6, p. 102
  3. "The Belle of Amherst" Internet Movie Database, accessed October 31, 2011
  4. Rohmann, Chris."Review:'The Belle of Amherst' at Columbus Center, Springfield, Mass.", accessed October 31. 2011
  5. Ehren, Christine."Julie Harris Returns to 'Belle of Amherst' Oct. 13-Nov. 5 in Seattle", October 13, 2000
  6. "A bomb in her bosom: Emily Dickinson's secret life" The Guardian. Lyndall Gordon. 12 Feb 2010
  7. The New York Times
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