Reading Emily Dickinson's Letters
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Table of Contents
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When the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s Poems was published in 1890, their enigmatic quality immediately stirred her readers’ interest in this hitherto completely unknown author whom reviewers depicted as a somber recluse. Intrigued by various rumors about the “myth of Amherst,” readers hoped, in particular, that Dickinson’s voluminous correspondence would shed some bio-...
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One of the pleasures of reading Emily Dickinson’s correspondence is discovering her gift for expressing gratitude. Not only did she write numerous thank-you notes on behalf of family members as well as herself, but she scattered appreciative comments throughout her letters and often signed off with the salutation “Gratefully.” Writing to her cousins Louise and Frances Norcross,...
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Emily Dickinson, preeminent American poet, distinguished herself also as a writer of letters. It has been estimated that the three volumes of her printed letters in the edition compiled by Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward and the letters to Joseph Lyman later edited by Richard Sewall represent only about one-tenth of the letters Dickinson actually wrote. Others have yet to be ...
“This is my letter to the World”: Emily Dickinson’s Epistolary Poetics
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When Thomas Wentworth Higginson recalled retrieving his mail at the Worcester Post Office on the morning of April 16, 1862, he noted his bewilderment at finding an unusual letter containing four poems from an unknown poet written in a peculiar handwriting, what he described as “fossil bird-tracks” (Higginson, Magnificent 544). Mystified, he commented further that the “most curious thing ...
Dickinson’s Correspondence and the Politics of Gift-Based Circulation
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In a February 24, 2003 commentary on a cancelled White House literary symposium that was to have focused on Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson, Katha Pollitt noted that though Dickinson may at first “seem the least political” (2) and therefore the least likely of the three poets to appear in a literary event deemed too politically volatile to stage, she may in the final ...
“Blossom[s] of the Brain”: Women’s Culture and the Poetics of Emily Dickinson’s Correspondence
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In her obituary for Emily Dickinson published three days after the poet’s death in the May 18, 1886, edition of the Springfield Republican, Susan Gilbert Dickinson praises her sister-in-law’s steadfast attention to her domestic duties and her generous lifelong ministry to others: “[T]here are many houses among all classes into which her treasures of fruit and flowers and ambrosial dishes for the sick ...
“Saying nothing . . . sometimes says the Most”: Dickinson’s Letters to Catherine Dickinson Sweetser
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The occasion that confronted Emily Dickinson as a writer of consolation letters in January 1874 was the most challenging she had ever faced. The books and magazine articles that advised letter-writers on the correct way to deal with various situations certainly did not cover this circumstance. What does one say to a woman whose husband has disappeared, with his disappearance being...
Messages of Condolence: “more Peace than Pang”
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“What shall I tell these darlings,” Emily Dickinson wondered at the start of her January 1863 letter to Louisa and Frances Norcross shortly after their father’s death left her cousins orphaned at ages 20 and 15 (L278). This had to be an earnest question, not just a rhetorical one; though her foregrounding the challenge she faced in conveying solace on paper to loved ones so overwhelmingly ...
“What are you reading now?”: Emily Dickinson’s Epistolary Book Club
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When eighteen-year-old Emily Dickinson wrote to Abiah Root, “What are you reading now?” and then reported on her own list (L23, May 16, 1848), she engaged in what was to be her lifelong activity: reporting on her own reading and eliciting suggestions from her network of friends. As do book enthusiasts today who, in increasing numbers, gather to cheer each other on in the pursuit of the latest ...
Emily Dickinson and Marriage: “The Etruscan Experiment”
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What would it be like to receive a letter from Emily Dickinson? Thomas Wentworth Higginson always remembered where he was standing when he took one from a mailbox on April 16, 1862. The letter Dickinson sent (he would receive many more) was direct and determined but made an effort to be suppliant and polite to the literary figure whose advice she desired. Beginning without blan-...
Heritable Heaven: Erotic Properties in the Dickinson-Lord Correspondence
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The drafts of letters Emily Dickinson apparently wrote during her correspondence with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, employ a wide range of legal terms and references. Elsewhere I have discussed the extent to which the drafts dwell upon matters related to property law, notably the areas of bankruptcy and trespass, as part of a larger campaign ...
Alliteration, Emphasis, and Spatial Prosody in Dickinson’s Manuscript Letters
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Emily Dickinson’s letters in manuscript offer readers more information about prosody than the standard print editions can provide. Although “prosody” generally refers to the technical aspects of versification, prose also has a prosody. A study of the prosody of Dickinson’s prose focuses on the way sound is organized in individual sentences. Here, for example, is the first page of a five-and-a-half-...
A Hazard of a Letter’s Fortunes: Epistolarity and the Technology of Audience in Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences
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Why not call them “pletters” or “loems”? That is how my witty partner articulated the “problem” Thomas H. Johnson describes in his introduction to The Letters of Emily Dickinson: “Indeed, early in the 1860’s, when Emily Dickinson seems to have first gained assurance of her destiny as a poet, the letters both in style and rhythm begin to take on qualities that are so nearly the quality of her ...
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Notes on Contributors
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Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 12 illustrations
Publication Year: 2009