Ben From 'Dickinson' Is Based On Emily's IRL Best Friend & Mentor

by Marenah Dobin
Originally Published: 
Benjamin Newtown In Dickinson
Apple TV+

Spoilers ahead for Dickinson. There's a lot of poetry talk in Apple TV+'s Dickinson, but it's not just about the writing. It's also about 19th century hookups and love affairs. Although the series present Sue Gilbert, Emily's sister-in-law, and Death as the poet's two main objects of affection, Emily also falls in love with Benjamin Newton, played by Matt Lauria on Dickinson. He sadly dies of tuberculosis by the end of Season 1, which pushes Emily to finally break out of her father's expectations, stop pining for Sue, and decide to go ahead and publisher her first book of poems. While Benjamin Newton is based on a real person, their relationship on Dickinson doesn't seem to be an accurate representation of their real life relationship.

Just like the fictional character, the real Ben did work for Emily's father while he was a law student and he did spend a lot of time at the Dickinson house with Emily and her family members. However, it is much more likely that he was just her close friend and mentor than the "non-husband" he promised to be during their "non-proposal" on the show.

The Emily Dickinson museum cited a few times when Emily mentioned Ben in her writing and it all seemed pretty platonic. She referred to him as her "earliest friend" and "the first of my own friends." She also described him as "my dying tutor." She also wrote that Ben as "an elder brother, loved indeed very much."

While it's notcertain if they were just platonic, sibling-like friends or if there was any romantic chemistry between them, the show does include some factual details about their time together. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, Ben appears to be the person who introduced Emily to Ralph Waldo Emerson's poems in real life. Ben was also one of the people who recognized Emily's talent for poetry and encouraged her to share her writing with the world, which is evidenced by their letters, which were published in 1894.

Nevertheless, the series did take some creative liberties with his life story. For example, on Dickinson, Ben died from tuberculosis as an unmarried man in Emily's family home. However, in real life he got married in 1851 and continued to correspond with Emily even though he was struggling with his health, according to the Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily actually found out about his death in 1853 after reading about it in the newspaper three days later.

On the show, Ben told Emily, "You're a true genius. You can write things that the world will never forget. I only wish I could live to see it" while he was on his deathbed. That sentiment was similar to what Ben wrote to her in real life, according to the biography The Life of Emily Dickinson.

There is next to no evidence that confirms that their relationship was as romantic as it was in the series, but there is no doubt that Ben had a profound influence on Emily as an author and as a human being.

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