In 1896, Lavinia Dickinson, sister of Emily, took the stand as witness and plaintiff in a court case against Mabel Loomis Todd, the editor of E.D.s first three books, and long-term mistress of her brother, Austin. Lavinia, while not quite as withdrawn as her sister, was nevertheless a reclusive character, not given to leaving home much in later years. Like her sister, she was regarded as strange by the Amherst townsfolk; in one authenticated story, local children came to sing for the Dickinsons, but were asked to do so downstairs, while the two sisters listened, unseen, from an upstairs room. So how did Lavinia cope with the very public arena of a court-room? To quote Lyndall Gordon's biography:
"Her junior counsel, Henry Field, remembered Miss Vinnie 'distinctly' in after years when he himself had become a judge. He'd feared cross-examination might confuse her. 'But not at all. On the witness stand she appeared perfectly natural and composed, not in the least bit disconcerted by an array of opposing counsel and a Court-room filled with curious spectators'."
In fact, Miss Vinnie put on an impressive and assured display, with not a small amount of guile, and she won her case - about the disputed ownership of a strip of land - despite having, on a purely factual basis, the weaker case. To me, this is interesting as it lends weight to the increasingly-held opinion that Emily Dickinson's withdrawal from the world was not due to diffidence or timidity - attributes absent from the accounts of those who actually met her - but was a conscious decision that the independence (from social and marital expectations) provided by seclusion in her father's house was necessary to allow her to practice her chosen profession of poet. Just as Lavinia impressed on the witness stand, so Emily impressed those who met her with her wit and verbal intelligence; often leaving them feeling upstaged and shaken; as was the case with T W Higginson, who famously declared 'I have never met anyone who drained my nerve power so much'. Many reasons for ED's seclusion have been suggested; but while there may have been contributory factors - medical or psychological perhaps - it does seem that artistic independence may have been the primary one.