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A look at the literary criticisms of emily dickinsons poetry

Like writers such as Ralph Waldo EmersonHenry David Thoreauand Walt Whitmanshe experimented with expression in order to free it from conventional restraints. To make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison, Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized.

Like the Concord Transcendentalists whose works she knew well, she saw poetry as a double-edged sword. While it liberated the individual, it as readily left him ungrounded.

The literary marketplace, however, offered new ground for her work in the last decade of the 19th century. When the first volume of her poetry was published in 1890, four years after her death, it met with stunning success. Going through eleven editions in less than two years, the poems eventually extended far beyond their first household audiences. Educated at Amherst and Yale, he returned to his hometown and joined the ailing law practice of his father, Samuel Fowler Dickinson.

  • In contrast to the friends who married, Mary Holland became a sister she did not have to forfeit;
  • When she wrote to him, she wrote primarily to his wife;
  • Many of the schools, like Amherst Academy, required full-day attendance, and thus domestic duties were subordinated to academic ones;
  • This plank, firmly grounded on each side, bridges an abyss;
  • In these years, she turned increasingly to the cryptic style that came to define her writing.

Edward also joined his father in the family home, the Homestead, built by Samuel Dickinson in 1813. Between 1852 and 1855 he served a single term as a representative from Massachusetts to the U.

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In Amherst he presented himself as a model citizen and prided himself on his civic work—treasurer of Amherst College, supporter of Amherst Academy, secretary to the Fire Society, and chairman of the annual Cattle Show.

Her few surviving letters suggest a different picture, as does the scant information about her early education at Monson Academy. Academy papers and records discovered by Martha Ackmann reveal a young woman dedicated to her studies, particularly in the sciences.

Her brother, William Austin Dickinson, had preceded her by a year and a half. Her sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, was born in 1833. All three children attended the one-room primary school in Amherst and then moved on to Amherst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College had grown.

The school prided itself on its connection with Amherst College, offering students regular attendance at college lectures in all the principal subjects— astronomy, botany, chemistry, geology, mathematics, natural history, natural philosophy, and zoology.

As this list suggests, the curriculum reflected the 19th-century emphasis on science. In an early poem, she chastised science for its prying interests. She encouraged her friend Abiah Root to join her in a school assignment: I hope you will, if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you.

Behind her school botanical studies lay a popular text in common use at female seminaries. Written by Almira H. Lincoln, Familiar Lectures on Botany 1829 featured a particular kind of natural history, emphasizing the religious nature of scientific study.

Edward Hitchcock, president of Amherst College, devoted his life to maintaining the unbroken connection between the natural world and its divine Creator. He was a frequent lecturer at the college, and Emily had many opportunities to hear him speak.

Dickinson found the conventional religious wisdom the least a look at the literary criticisms of emily dickinsons poetry part of these arguments. From what she read and what she heard at Amherst Academy, scientific observation proved its excellence in powerful description.

The writer who could say what he saw was invariably the writer who opened the greatest meaning to his readers. The individual who could say what is was the individual for whom words were power.

Although Dickinson undoubtedly esteemed him while she was a student, her response to his unexpected death in 1850 clearly suggests her growing poetic interest. She wrote Abiah Root that her only tribute was her tears, and she lingered over them in her description.

She will not brush them away, she says, for their presence is her expression. So, of course, is her language, which is in keeping with the memorial verses expected of 19th-century mourners.

  1. Critics have speculated about its connection with religion, with Austin Dickinson, with poetry, with their own love for each other.
  2. Critics note that poem 303 was written in 1862, the year Dickinson made her decision to withdraw from the larger world. The poem concludes with a lament on the wisdom lost with the dead.
  3. In Amherst he presented himself as a model citizen and prided himself on his civic work—treasurer of Amherst College, supporter of Amherst Academy, secretary to the Fire Society, and chairman of the annual Cattle Show.
  4. As Dickinson had predicted, their paths diverged, but the letters and poems continued.

At the academy she developed a group of close friends within and against whom she defined her self and its written expression. Other girls from Amherst were among her friends—particularly Jane Humphrey, who had lived with the Dickinsons while attending Amherst Academy. As students, they were invited to take their intellectual work seriously. Many of the schools, like Amherst Academy, required full-day attendance, and thus domestic duties were subordinated to academic ones.

When asked for advice about future study, they offered the reading list expected of young men. Thus, the time at school was a time of intellectual challenge and relative freedom for girls, especially in an academy such as Amherst, which prided itself on its progressive understanding of education. The students looked to each other for their discussions, grew accustomed to thinking in terms of their identity as scholars, and faced a marked change when they left school.

As was common, Dickinson left the academy at the age of 15 in order to pursue a higher, and for women, final, level of education. Under the guidance of Mary Lyon, the school was known for its religious predilection.

The young women were divided into three categories: No one else did. In fact, 30 students finished the school year with that designation. Some have argued that the beginning of her so-called reclusiveness can be seen in her frequent mentions of homesickness in her letters, but in no case do the letters suggest that her regular activities were disrupted. She did not make the same kind of close friends as she had at Amherst Academy, but her reports on the daily routine suggest that she was fully a part of the activities of the school.

Additional questions are raised by the uncertainty over who made the decision that she not return for a second year. Dickinson attributed the decision to her father, but she said nothing further about his reasoning. But in other places her description of her father is quite different the individual too busy with his law practice to notice what occurred at home. The least sensational explanation has been offered by biographer Richard Sewall.

Looking over the Mount Holyoke curriculum and seeing how many of the texts duplicated those Dickinson had already studied at Amherst, he concludes that Mount Holyoke had little new to offer her.

It also prompted the dissatisfaction common among young women in the early 19th century. Upon their return, unmarried daughters were indeed expected to demonstrate their dutiful nature by setting aside their own interests in order to meet the needs of the home. For Dickinson the change was hardly welcome. Her letters from the early 1850s register dislike of domestic work and frustration with the time constraints created by the work that was never done.

Particularly annoying were the number of calls expected of the women in the Homestead. The daily rounds of receiving and paying visits were deemed essential to social standing. Not only were visitors to the college welcome at all times in the home, but also were members of the Whig Party or the legislators with whom Edward Dickinson worked. For Dickinson, the pace of such visits was mind-numbing, and she began limiting the number of visits she made or received.

She baked bread and tended the garden, but she would neither dust nor visit.

  • Significantly, this poem privileges the reading of verse to the writing of it;
  • Neither he nor the speaker have the will to alter things, beyond ensuring that the material objects willed fall to the wills of their new owners;
  • Bowles was chief editor of the Springfield Republican; Holland joined him in those duties in 1850.

There was one other duty she gladly took on. In the 19th century the sister was expected to act as moral guide to her brother; Dickinson rose to that requirement—but on her own terms.

Emily Dickinson

In her early letters to Austin, she represented the eldest child as the rising hope of the family. With the first she was in firm agreement with the wisdom of the century: If he borrowed his ideas, he failed her test of character.

There were to be no pieties between them, and when she detected his own reliance on conventional wisdom, she used her language to challenge what he had left unquestioned. In her letters to Austin in the early 1850s, while he was teaching and in the mid 1850s during his three years as a law student at Harvard, she presented herself as a keen critic, using extravagant praise to invite him to question the worth of his own perceptions. She positioned herself as a spur to his ambition, readily reminding him of her own work when she wondered about the extent of his.

Not only did he return to his hometown, but he also joined his father in his law practice. He too became the citizen of Amherst, treasurer of the College, and chairman of the Cattle Show. The daughter of a tavern keeper, Sue was born at the margins of Amherst society. Had her father lived, Sue might never have moved from the world of the working class to the world of educated lawyers. They returned periodically to Amherst to visit their older married sister, Harriet Gilbert Cutler.

Sue, however, returned to Amherst to live and attend school in 1847. Enrolled at Amherst Academy while Dickinson was at Mount Holyoke, Sue was gradually included in the Dickinson circle of friends by way of her sister Martha. She took a teaching position in Baltimore in 1851. On the eve of her departure, Amherst was in the midst of a religious revival. The community was galvanized by the strong preaching of both its regular and its visiting ministers.

The Dickinson household was memorably affected. By the end of the revival, two more of the family members counted themselves among the saved: Edward Dickinson joined the church on 11 August 1850, the day that Susan Gilbert also became one of the fold. Vinnie Dickinson delayed some months longer, until November.

Austin Dickinson waited several more years, joining the church in 1856, the year of his marriage. The other daughter never made that profession of faith. But unlike their Puritan predecessors, the members of this generation moved with greater freedom between the latter two categories. While God would not simply choose those who chose themselves, he also would only make his choice from those present and accounted for—thus, the importance of church attendance as well as the centrality of religious self-examination.

Revivals guaranteed that both would be inescapable. In her scheme of redemption, salvation depended upon freedom. Christ is calling everyone here, all my companions have answered, even my darling Vinnie believes she loves, and trusts him, and I am standing alone in rebellion, and growing very careless.

I wonder if it is? Within those ten years she defined what was incontrovertibly precious to her. Not religion, but poetry; not the vehicle reduced to its tenor, but the process of making metaphor and watching the meaning emerge. As early as 1850 her letters suggest that her mind was turning over the possibility of her own work. She described the winter as one long dream from which she had not yet awakened. Her letters of the period are frequent and long. Their heightened language provided working space for herself as writer.

In these passionate letters to her female friends, she tried out different voices.