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A day for Love

Forget Me Not Florist employee Selena Dittberner and owner Rebecca Fitzgerald, get ready for Valentine's Day at the shop in the Round House Plaza in Northampton.

CAROL LOLLIS Forget Me Not Florist employee Selena Dittberner and owner Rebecca Fitzgerald, get ready for Valentine's Day at the shop in the Round House Plaza in Northampton.

AMHERST — Romance of the 19th-century kind will be in the air at the Emily Dickinson Museum starting next month.

As the modern Valentine’s Day celebrates relationships with the exchange of flowers, chocolates and greeting cards, staff at the museum are completing work on their inaugural “Dickinsons in Love” tours, which will provide a sense of what romance was like in Emily Dickinson’s time.

Planned to begin in late March, the tours will supplement the more conventional ones and focus on the love lives of Emily Dickinson and three generations of her family.

Cindy Dickinson, director of interpretation and programming at the museum, said the programs are using Emily Dickinson’s own poetry and correspondence, as well as writings from her family, to explore how their romantic histories fit into the meaning of love in New England in the 1800s.

“This is more of a close-up look at romantic love and their lives,” Dickinson said.

There will be three parts to the tours, which take visitors to the Main Street museum through both the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson composed her works, and the neighboring Evergreens, where her brother Austin resided.

First up, Dickinson said, will be the 19th-century courtships of Emily Dickinson’s parents, Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson, and brother Austin Dickinson.

Then the tour will move on to how Dickinson wrote about love and how that demonstrates expressions of love during that time period.

Finally, the love affairs between Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd and Emily Dickinson and Otis Lord will be examined.

The former was an extramarital affair for Todd, best known for editing the first collection of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The latter, which ended when Lord died, was perhaps Emily Dickinson’s best chance at marriage.

Those who participate will have an opportunity to read aloud selected writings and excerpts from poems. The tours will conclude with participants being offered wine and cheese and the chance to ponder the romance of more than a century ago.

Dickinson said she has been planning the tours with the museum’s guiding staff for several months.

“It’s quite a well-researched program,” Dickinson said.

The museum’s initial advertising notes simply that “museum guides reveal the nature of courtship, marriage, unrequited passions and extramarital romance in the Dickinsons’ world.”

Cindy Dickinson hopes many who already have toured the museum will want to return for this new experience. The staff also hopes to grab the attention of newcomers.

The museum has done themed events in the past, such as an architectural tour last year that focused on the exteriors of the two historic buildings.

The first “Dickinsons in Love” tour will be held March 21 and 22, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The cost is $30 per person and $25 for members.

Reservations, which are required, can be made by calling 542-2034 or sending email to labbott@emilydickinsonmuseum.org. Since the program has adult themes, it may not be suitable for young children.

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