An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia

By Jane Donahue Eberwein | Go to book overview

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READER-RESPONSE THEORY is a mode of inquiry into the tripartite exchange between the reader, writer, and text. The reader's subjective engagement with the text and the ways the formal properties of the text elicit particular responses from the reader are cornerstones of this theoretical model. Readerresponse critics also analyze the text to discern traces of the author or the author's attitude toward reading, the message inscribed by the author, and the cues transmitted to the reader for decoding purposes.

Gary Lee Stonum The Dickinson Sublime is inflected by the rhetorical★ approach, which explores how the author's construction of the text transmits meaning to, and produces intended effects in, the reader. For Stonum, the romantic sublime -- an experience of intense emotion that disrupts normal modes of consciousness -- is repeatedly thematized in Dickinson's poems and reflects her commitment to evoking an affective response from readers. Dickinson's anxiety about power and the traditional definition of poet as master results in her creation of an aesthetic that privileges multivalency and thereby encourages multiple forms of reader-response.

In "The Big Tease," Suzanne Juhasz also draws on the rhetorical approach, particularly the concept that within an individual text are inscribed traces of both an image of an ideal reader capable of best realizing the meaning of the text and of the author capable of writing it. According to Juhasz, Dickinson's position within a patriarchal society freights the reader/writer with danger: Dickinson's desire to disrupt accepted meanings while attracting an ideal reader who appreciates her linguistic deviance is threatened by the reader who expects traditional definitions of words and a conventional woman poet inscribed within the text. Dickinson negotiates the potential threat the reader poses through "tease," a movement between invitation to, and resistance of, the reader.

Semiotic, phenomenological, and feminist versions of reader-response are

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An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chronology xv
  • Abbreviations xix
  • A 1
  • B 13
  • C 38
  • D 61
  • E 92
  • F 107
  • G 122
  • H 131
  • I 154
  • J 162
  • K 169
  • L 171
  • M 188
  • N 205
  • O 218
  • P 222
  • R 243
  • S 256
  • T 279
  • U 294
  • V 296
  • W 301
  • Y 311
  • Appendix A - Fascicle Listings of Dickinson Poems 313
  • Appendix B - Major Archival Collections for Dickinson Research 339
  • Bibliography 343
  • Index of Poems Cited 361
  • General Index 371
  • About the Contributors 387
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