A biopic of American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) from her teens through her adult life.
Teenage Emily (Emma Bell) suffers through her time at a Christian boarding school. When she returns home, her father, Edward (Keith Carradine), though stern, welcomes her back and allows the strong-minded girl to stay up until all hours of the morning to write poetry.
Living a somewhat reclusive life at the family home in Amherst, Emily manages to find a new friend, Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey). When Vryling marries, leaving Emily alone again, she finds comfort in her doting younger sister, Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle), whose loyalty helps her cope with their condescending brother Austin (Duncan Duff).
However, Emily becomes bitter when she falls for the married Reverend Wadsworth (Eric Loren), who enjoys intellectual chats with the young woman but has no romantic feelings for her. She is further vexed when a vengeful editor refuses to continue to publish her poetry.
Tormented by gender inequality and feelings of insecurity, Emily struggles to find her place in life, finally withdrawing from social life after a crisis of faith.