Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception

Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception

Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception

Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception


Emily Dickinson has often been pictured as a sensitive but isolated poet -- someone who published very little in her lifetime and limited herself to lyrics, considered to be the kind of poems most removed from social and political life. In recent years, scholars have challenged that view, and this book extends the discussion in valuable new directions.

Domhnall Mitchell begins by focusing on three historical phenomena -- the railroad, the Dickinson Homestead, and horticulture -- and argues that poems about trains, home, and flowers engage with their meanings in ways that extend beyond the confines of the aesthetic. He shows how Dickinson's poems and letters reveal the full complexity of her position as a woman situated within a larger social and economic class.

In the second half of the book, Mitchell considers the ideological, textual, and editorial implications of Dickinson's strategic privatization of her art. He relates the particular forms of her manuscripts' appearance, distribution, and collation,to aspects of her social as well as her literary consciousness. In a chapter that is certain to provoke debate, he explores what it means to read individual poems and letters in manuscript versions rather than in printed editions. By paying close attention to textual evidence, he makes the case that various features of the manuscripts are actually matters of accident or immediate convenience rather than the visual markers of a new aesthetic principle.

Mitchell closes by using the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin to explore the contradictions of a "private" poetry that engages verbally in multiple areas of nineteenth-century life and discourse. By attending to the contemporaneousparticularities of recurrent words and images, he demonstrates that Dickinson could stay at home and still be at home in history too.


Emely dickinson was long thought of as a sensitive but historically isolated poet: not only was she a mythic recluse who allegedly published next to nothing in her own lifetime, she also wrote lyrics, commonly viewed as the kind of poems most removed from social and political realities. True to the myth, the makers of Largely Literary T-shirts portray her as a woman squeezed into a room the size of a box, with nothing beyond this blocked-out square of seclusion but blank space: like an advertisement for New Critical poetics, she represents literary genius without external contexts. Although this view has begun to be modified in the 1980s and 1990s, even those who claim that Dickinson was not a private poet tend to re-privatize her writerly practice by concentrating on its cultural, religious, or textual-biographical aspects. One wonders then if the popular image of Emily Dickinson may not exist as a response to a reclusive stance in her writings: Is the ahistorical approach a reflex prompted by the way in which her texts were written and transmitted and by the subjects they address? Is there evidence of a poetics of segregation, a quarantining of language from the contamination of social and political actualities, or is this perhaps a side effect of their subsequent presentation in print, where at least some of them are removed from their historical and epistolary contexts? Emily Dickimon: Monarch of Perception seeks to answer these questions. For although the poems often do appear to separate themselves from actualities, or to take the possibility of separation as a perspec-

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