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Reading in Time

Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century

Cristanne Miller

Publication Year: 2012

This book provides new information about Emily Dickinson as a writer and new ways of situating this poet in relation to nineteenth-century literary culture, examining how we read her poetry and how she was reading the poetry of her own day. Cristanne Miller argues both that Dickinson’s poetry is formally far closer to the verse of her day than generally imagined and that Dickinson wrote, circulated, and retained poems differently before and after 1865. Many current conceptions of Dickinson are based on her late poetic practice. Such conceptions, Miller contends, are inaccurate for the time when she wrote the great majority of her poems. Before 1865, Dickinson at least ambivalently considered publication, circulated relatively few poems, and saved almost everything she wrote in organized booklets. After this date, she wrote far fewer poems, circulated many poems without retaining them, and took less interest in formally preserving her work. Yet, Miller argues, even when circulating relatively few poems, Dickinson was vitally engaged with the literary and political culture of her day and, in effect, wrote to her contemporaries. Unlike previous accounts placing Dickinson in her era, Reading in Time demonstrates the extent to which formal properties of her poems borrow from the short-lined verse she read in schoolbooks, periodicals, and single-authored volumes. Miller presents Dickinson’s writing in relation to contemporary experiments with the lyric, the ballad, and free verse, explores her responses to American Orientalism, presents the dramatic lyric as one of her preferred modes for responding to the Civil War, and gives us new ways to understand the patterns of her composition and practice of poetry.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Although quickly written, this book both builds on ideas about Dickinson I have been developing since graduate school and has enjoyed the assistance of numbers of people that would imply a longer period of gestation. First my deep thanks to the University at Buffalo for granting me a year’s leave to conduct the required research ...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Reading in Dickinson’s Time

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pp. 1-18

Emily Dickinson wrote the large majority of her poems during and in at least partial relation to antebellum culture and the Civil War, partaking in popular discourse, experimenting with form in ways congruent with her peers, and both accepting and experimenting with basic genre assumptions of her era. ...

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2. Lyric Strains

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pp. 19-48

Genre criticism is dominated by transhistorical definitional distinctions, albeit distinctions determined by the critical assumptions of the period in which they are made. This makes sense; a genre must be inclusive in its defining characteristics. In contrast, while poets may set themselves a particular generic task (to write a sonnet, an ode, an epic), ...

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3. Hymn, the “Ballad Wild,” and Free Verse

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pp. 49-81

As the previous chapter demonstrates, although a great variety of verse was considered lyric, from sea chanties to verse of highly irregular rhyming and stanzaic structure, the lyric poem as such was not a much discussed genre in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. ...

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4. Spoken Poetry and the Written Poem

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pp. 82-117

The two preceding chapters present evidence of Dickinson’s closeness to her antebellum peers in valuing forms of verse that reveal some strain of wildness and in playing out the innovative rhythmic possibilities of both hymn and ballad forms and the intersections between them. ...

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5. Becoming a Poet in “turbaned seas”

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pp. 118-146

Scholars writing on Dickinson’s borrowings from popular culture and popular literature have generally treated this phenomenon as an unchanging aspect of her poetry. This may be the case with her enthusiasm for some authors or types of work and for her general interest in popular culture; there are distinct patterns of difference, ...

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6. Reading and Writing the Civil War

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pp. 147-175

Scholars have debated the extent to which Dickinson was aff ected by the Civil War and responded to it in her poems, from Thomas H. Johnson’s famous pronouncement that Dickinson “did not live in history and held no view of it” (xx) to Shira Wolosky’s groundbreaking Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War ...

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Coda: Portrait of a Non-Publishing Poet

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pp. 176-196

Like many others, I believe that during the early 1860s Dickinson entertained the idea of publication, albeit ambivalently— an ambivalence that seems to have reappeared briefly in the 1880s. Had T. W. Higginson responded to her work in 1862 with the same enthusiasm Helen Hunt Jackson did in the 1880s, the story of Dickinson’s life might have developed differently. ...

Appendix A: Poems on the Orient

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pp. 197-200

Appendix B: Poems Mentioning Travel, Escape, or Foreign Places or People (1860)

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pp. 201-202


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pp. 203-258

Works Cited

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pp. 259-272

General Index

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pp. 273-276

Index of Poems

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pp. 277-279

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762035
E-ISBN-10: 1613762038
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499508
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499504

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 7 illus.
Publication Year: 2012