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156 the minnesota review she repeatedly emphasizes that Dickinson only challenged "the conventional definition of God's nature" and orthodox religious dogma, not the existence of a deity. The reason for this distinction relates directly to Wolffs final argument. Just as the title of her work reflects wholeness, just as the structure of her work creates a whole, enclosed circle, Wolffs final chapters seek to fuse the broken fragments of Dickinson's faith. Placing the poet's early defiance of God in her verse within the context of the Puritan definition of an "authentic conversion" as an "unstable state" demanding "uncertainty and conflict," Wolff argues that "by the mid-1860s or early 1870s ... a new poetry of faith had emerged" (504). Ignoring her own warning against such practices, Wolff cites evidence from carefully selected pieces to make assertions about the poet's internal state, claiming that Dickinson "had begun the arduous return to the Father in Heaven" (531). The rhetorical question in the last paragraph of the book exemplifies Wolff's desire for the salvation of Dickinson's soul: Did Emily Dickinson glimpse fame and her own surpassing Power . . .in those last days ... or were her thoughts entirely upon our Father in Heaven, preparing to receive this prodigal daughter who had expended her whole life upon the poetry that described a long pilgrimage to faith? (537) Such a confused blending of the spiritual condition of the woman and the dramatic posture of the poet forces a reconsideration of the definition of "self in the "Voice" section of Wolffs text—we can no longer be certain that that section pertained to a poetic self. Although it may yet prove useful to approach Dickinson's poetics as an aesthetics which adopts and adapts features of the meditative tradition or, more specifically, of the Puritan genre of spiritual autobiography, no substantial biographical or artistic evidence exists to prove that this poet experienced a conversion comparable to the kind found in the spiritual narratives of the Puritans. Wolff correctly identifies doubt as a requirement of an "authentic conversion," and such doubt does continue after the central experience of faith. But Puritans struggle a good deal in their narratives to pinpoint the exact time and place of their conversion, and Dickinson makes no effort in her poetry to do that. To claim that Dickinson 's poems mirror her true spiritual condition seems to eUminate the possibility of a dramatic persona and a representative voice in the verse. More important, such an argument draws exact relationships between poetics/self and autobiography/history, reducing art to a truthful image of self, and self to a truthful image of community. In the end, the liberal, humanist biographer in Wolff triumphs over the psycho-analytic, deconstructive literary critic for the sake of a perhaps spurious unity. VERONICA STEWART The Subject of Tragedy: Identity andDifference in Renaissance Drama by Catherine Belsey. London and New York: Methuen, 1985. pp. 253 + xi. $27.50 (cloth) $12.95 (paper). Catherine Belsey's The Subject of Tragedy is one in a current flurry of excellent books on Renaissance drama that refuse to treat the plays as predominantly aesthetic and timeless artifacts documenting the profound insights of Shakespeare and his contemporaries into an essential, universal, and unchanging human nature. Belsey's approach is overtly marxist , and her main project is to reclaim the drama of the Renaissance from a liberal humanist literary tradition which has reproduced these texts in its own image. Through an examination of plays and prose works by male and female authors of the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries, she demonstrates that the view of the human subject as "the free, unconstrained author of meaning and action, the origin of history" (8) posited in texts of the late sixteenth century by liberal humanism, does not come into being fully until the second half of the seventeenth century. Reviews 157 Unlike the American new historicists, Belsey is not interested in a fuU and detailed articulation of specific historical moments. AU readings of the past, she asserts, are necessarily anachronistic: "We cannot reproduce the conditions—the economy, the diseases, the manners , the language and the corresponding subjectivity—of another century." (2) Her project , therefore...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 156-159
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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