Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

By David Hernandez,2014-05-27 06:15
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Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

    Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

    Life and Career:

    ; “She has been perceived as agoraphobic, deeply afraid of her surroundings, and as an

    eccentric spinster. At the same time, Dickinson is widely acknowledged as one of the

    founders of American poetry, an innovative pre-modernist poet as well as a rebellious and

    courageous woman.” (Wendy Martin, Introduction to Cambridge Companion).

    ; Grew up and lived most of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts

    ; Father was a dominant and domineering personality: “buys me many books, but begs me not

    to read them.”

    ; Spent one year at Mount Holyoke after that she left Amherst only 5 or 6 times

    ; Spent the last 20 years of her life rarely leaving her home or yard

    o But she was not disconnected from the world or an isolated hermit. “The Soul selects her

    own Society / Then shuts the door

    o She had friends and family nearby, wrote letters, read newspapers, books, periodicals.

    o Had passionate (romantic) attachments to Susan Gilbert Dickinson, men like Charles

    Wadsworth, Otis Lord

    ; Published only 10 poems in her life, and never sought widespread publication ; Wrote to T.W. Higginson in 1861: “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?”

    Higginson is blown away by it, but also doesn’t know what to make of her unusual meter,

    rhyme, punctuation, images

    ; Wrote letters and poems throughout her life, but no one knew how many; after her death, her

    sister finds over 1200, bound up into booklets she made, called “fascicles”

    Some Critical Issues and Opinions:

    ; Textual authority/editing: She did not seek publication and asked her sister to destroy the

    poems upon her death. Instead, Lavinia sought to publish them, setting off a long battle over

    control of the texts.

    ; Johnson (1960) and Franklin (1998, 1999) editions

    ; See Betsy Erkkila’s “The Emily Dickinson Wars” in Cambridge Companion to

    Emily Dickinson.

    ; Form: Her unusual form adds to questions about editing punctuation, line breaks, dashes,

    word choices. Also, many poems are parts of letters, raising questions about the very nature

    of poetry and boundaries between epistolary and poetic genres.

    ; Dickinson demands a lot of the reader: you must be willing to accept ambiguity, multiple

    interpretations, shifting poetic personas. She is notoriously difficult to pin down on any one


    ; Religion: During a time of religious revival and wide-spread evangelicalism, Dickinson’s

    religion was unorthodox. You can’t easily pin down her religious beliefs.

    ; She refused to think that the world had no pleasure in that pleasure could only

    be found in heaven.

    ; She refused to profess a sense of her own sin or believe that she deserved the

    pain she experienced.

    ; She felt that attention to her own experience was the route to the infinite.

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