'You are, like, so woke': Dickinson and the anachronistic turn in historical drama

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Whilst scholars of historical fiction have largely moved away from the idea of accuracy as a means of assessing historical fiction, fidelity to historical facts continues to be considered an important generic requirement of the form. To include anachronisms in any historical fiction is usually considered a mistake or an embarrassment, a sign that the requisite attention to historical detail has lapsed. For a new spate of historical television shows such as Reign (2013–17), Dickinson (2019) and The Great (2020), however, authenticity is not located in an objective measure of accuracy or fidelity, but instead lies within the explicit, textual acknowledgement that the context of creation shapes all historical drama. Apple TV+’s comedy/drama Dickinson, in particular, entirely bypasses the question of accuracy by embracing intentional anachronism. With its soundtrack of contemporary music and a contemporary queer progressive sensibility, Dickinson uses anachronism to suggest a new way of thinking about one of the most mythologised and enigmatic of American literary icons. The show self-consciously draws overt parallels between past and present to emphasise the familiarity of the past, rather than its strangeness, thus rejecting triumphalist readings of history and positing a new way for contemporary audiences to understand and access history. Dickinson also suggests a definition of authenticity that is not reliant on the development of a sense of verisimilitude. In its use of intentional anachronism and its insistence on capturing a sense of affective accuracy, Dickinson suggests a new way of thinking about the function and form of historical fiction in the twenty-first century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-554
Number of pages21
JournalRethinking History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Anachronism
  • authenticity
  • Emily Dickinson
  • feminism
  • historical drama
  • neo-historical fiction


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