Dickinson's Toby Huss Discusses Emily's Poetry, Familial Disappointment, and Financial Stressors

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Toby Huss stars as patriarch Edward Dickinson on Dickinson.

We had a chance to catch up with him before the Dickinson Season 2 finale on Friday, Feb. 26.

Read on to find out what Toby had to say about his changing familial relationships with Emily and Mrs. Dickinson, the growing discord between him and Austin, and his thoughts on Lavinia's engagement.

Emily and Edward - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 4

Throughout the first season Edward was very against Emily being a published poet, believing it wasn’t a respectable career for a woman. Now, though, Emily’s poetry has been published in the Springfield Republican, and we’ve seen that Edward has somewhat accepted this turn of events. Talk to me about that.

I think you've seen the change in Edward, even so far this year. As to how, he's come around to seeing his daughter maybe for the first time really, and seeing what kind of a woman she is now and what she might become. And I think it's, of course, terrifying for him.

But the prospect of him stopping that growth, and making her return to what she was is more terrifying. And I think he's not willing to go far enough out to hurt his child like that, he has to let her become. So he, in a sense, is the reluctant architect of his own openness. But he didn't.

He didn't want to be this open with his daughter. He didn't want to open up like this. He didn't want to be vulnerable.

Edward read - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 8

So is it more of him accepting Emily’s literary career, or has it progressed where he’s proud of everything she’s accomplished? 

It's, it's a mix of all that stuff, you know, because he is resigned. She's a strong creature, you know, much stronger than Austin, much stronger than Vinnie. She's strong in her own way, and he can't battle that thing. It's too big, and I think that is led him to respect her.

But I think he also knew that he had to give her a place to land if he ever wanted to be involved in her life. So he had to open up and show some softness to her and understanding and compassion.

Speaking of changing relationships, we’ve also seen a shift in his relationship with Mrs. Dickinson. She's more vocal about her feelings and more forceful in her actions, even leaving her husband in a hole.

Yeah, yeah, she'll do that. Edward gets it from a lot of different angles this year. It's not easy being in that house for poor Edward. People like to comment that he's this disgruntled patriarch, and sure, that's part of it, but he's also got two Emilys and a Lavinia in his house.

Edward and Mrs. Dickinson dance Season 2 Episode 6

That's not easy, and his son isn’t helping his cause out that much either because [Austin’s] much more feminized than Edward wants him to be. So think about that. Poor Edward, poor old fellow.

So how does that change in Mrs. Dickinson impact their marriage?

Well, I think Edward's going to do the bare minimum with his wife to keep peace in the home and to try to understand her as much as he can to kind of get her to just back a little bit off of him. I think a lot of men do that. I don't see it as necessarily horrible.

I've called Edward an incrementalist before, and I think he is, you know, where he's going to do what he can to keep peace in the house. He's not going to say, ‘All right, let's stop everything, beat it. I got a reinvestigate the emotional tenor of the relationship with my wife. So let’s dive in there. We're gonna take six months.

'We're going to go see therapists, and we're going to figure this out.’ No, it’s more of let's get it up to where it can be so we can drive it around and it doesn't have any clinking and clonking. As long as the wheels don’t fall off, we'll be OK. So he hoped for the best in an incremental way, I think with her.

Austin receive - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 2

Pivoting back to his children, Edward’s relationship with Austin has also changed. Last season, Edward and Austin got along famously, but now there’s some discord there, especially when it comes to money. 

Sure. Yeah, Austin became kind of the prince, and Edward is not comfortable having royalty in his own home. He sees Emily as a different kind of creature, but it was inevitable that she was going to be like that. It just took Edward a while to accept it.

The boy on the other hand, oh, he's a jerk. [Austin’s] just not the kind of man that Edward wants him to be. He's not strident enough. He's not as well informed. He's not tenacious. He's not rigid. You know, he hasn't learned how to subsume himself in the social body politic that Edward has kind of.

Austin's like a spoiled rich kid in a way, and it's not his fault. He's just a different creature, and Emily's a different creature, and so is Lavinia.

Sue holds - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 8

However, Sue's the one who's spending all of Edward's money. So what are his feelings toward his daughter-in-law then?

Well, she's spending, but he's blaming his son with that, because if she's spending it, it's his son who can't control his lady and he can't control his household, and he's out of control. So Edward is gonna stick that squarely at the feet of Austin.

Because Austin's got to be a man, and he's not being a man in the sense that Edward needs him to be a man. Same way he did with Emily, he has a limited view of his own children, and until that view is expanded by force, he's not going to really see it.

Adding to possible friction, what would Edward think about Austin bankrolling this underground Black abolitionist newspaper and allowing them to use the barn? 

It would be, ‘You got to get out of the barn. You really got to get out. It's my barn. I understand you have a point of view, but it's my barn, and you all have to find a new barn.’ He's talking to Austin, of course.

Edward talk - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 7

I don't think [Edward] can let that stand because it brings insurrection to his doorstep, and Edward’s not about that. He's a status quo guy.

I mean, it nearly killed him to open up to his daughter and to let that relationship be fruitful because he took in … more than he ever saw coming in terms of his daughter being a writer and being a poet and being, you know, having some renown and being published more than he ever expected.

So, I think for him to then turn around and say, ‘Yes, let's free the slaves, and I'll be at the front of the line,’ it's too much. It’s too much for a guy.

We haven’t seen much interaction between Edward and Lavinia this season. What are his thoughts on her engagement with Ship?

Well, Lavinia’s kind of the afterthought. I think Edward thinks his plate is pretty full with Emily and Austin. If he can get Vinnie with one guy, then that’s good enough for Edward.

Lavinia opera - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 6

He’s like, ‘That’s great,’ but he really doesn't know her. He's not sure how to talk to her. Lavinia's a strange little creature to him. Hopefully she can marry well.

Has he noticed that Lavinia isn’t that excited about marrying Ship, or is he just kind of so overwhelmed with everything else that's going on?

You know, that's the one thing we didn't play around with that, like Edward never took a good long conversation with Ship. It would have been nice to see his reaction to Ship, but I think if you had a big reaction to that conversation, even in a negative way, you would have had to explore that.

And then you would have had to have him contravene that relationship with his daughter. So it would have been a whole other thing, like a whole other can of worms I didn't think we have time for.

Edward and Mrs. Dickinson visit Season 2 Episode 2

So outside of the familial issues, Edward’s also dealing with some financial woes this season. Can you talk about how that's been a stressor for the character?

Yeah, well, everything is a stressor for that poor guy. And things falling apart for him in one way. Financially, they're falling apart, and he's pretty tweaked. The railroad didn't work out the way he wanted it to. His son just has no idea what money is or about or what it really does.

On the other hand, he has the beginnings of a really healthy, sweet relationship with his daughter. That's opening up in a way that you never expected, so he's seen these relationships opening in ways that he didn't expect.

Some are more positive than others, and some are healthier than others, and some are more of a strain and stressor to him.

Lavinia crosses - Dickinson Season 2 Episode 9

Are there any characters or actors you wish you get to shoot more with?

Yeah, I don't have much with my little girl Vinnie. She's great is really wonderful. I think Anna [Baryshnikov, who plays Lavinia,] is … kind of the comedic heart of the show.

She's really funny, and she's really a goofball. I want to I want to have more with her next season. I think that would be great.

Where would you like to see your character go next season?

You know, I don't really have any desire one way or the other. I think it'll be interesting to see where Alena [Smith] places him. I don't have any inclanation,you know, I don't have any wish one way or the other with that.

Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.

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Dickinson Quotes

Sue: You’re right.
Emily: Right about what?
Sue: The only time I feel things is when I’m with you.
Emily: She dealt her pretty words like Blades. How glittering they shone.
Sue: I pushed you toward him because I wanted to escape what I was feeling, and I slept with him ‘cause I didn’t wanna feel it. There is so much that I don’t want to feel, Emily. And the biggest thing that I don’t want to feel…
Emily: Is what? Hmm, is what? What is it, Sue? Just say it.
Sue: Is that I’m in love with you.
Emily: I don’t believe you.
Sue: It’s true.
Emily: It’s not true. Nothing you say to me is true. You’re not even Sue anymore. You’re a new person, a fake person. I don’t even recognize you, and everything you say to me is a lie.
Sue: Emily, I love.
Emily: Stop lying to me.
Sue: I love you, and I felt you in the library because you’re always with me. I can’t escape from you because the only true thing I will ever feel is my love for you.

Nobody: You know who I am, and you know how I’m going to die.
Emily: Yes, in the war.
Nobody: In the war, seeking glory, seeking fame. I’ll leave my home and my family and go into battle.
Emily: Yes, and then the bullet will hit you like a bird.
Nobody: So Frazar Stearns will die to be remembered. Might have been better to be Nobody.
Emily: I understand, and I will not make the same mistake.
Nobody: You have wars to fight, Emily Dickinson, but you must fight them in secret, alone, unseen. You must give all the glory to yourself and ask for nothing from the world. You must be a nobody. The bravest, most brilliant nobody who ever existed.