Abstract

Although Dickinson experienced a well known crisis of non-conversion during the revivals of the late 1840s and early 1850s at Mount Holyoke and in Amherst’s First Church, exploration of child-rearing practices within her religious environment suggests that her parents may have followed advice found in John Abbott’s The Mother at Home and The Child at Home (both 1833), books that offered more hope for cultivating trust in God, love for Jesus, and a grateful disposition than a more conservative manual, Heman Humphrey’s Domestic Education (1840). Evidence in Dickinson’s adult letters and poems encourages speculation that her household environment had strengthened her to develop as a spiritually healthy child who found herself colliding against the revivalistic pressures of the Second Awakening at a time of life when even the most pious young person would face challenges moving toward mature faith. The conflict she experienced was not that of a graceless unbeliever refusing redemption but of a trusting Christian who felt herself betrayed by the church society around her and eventually even by her own family. Her crisis bore out Horace Bushnell’s incisive critique of that Calvinist revival culture in Views of Christian Nurture (1847), a highly controversial book when first published, but one that anticipated trends in religious education that became dominant after the Civil War. Although Dickinson’s mixed memories of church responses as a little girl and the ironic child persona who speaks in manyof her poems reflect a pained sense of exclusion, “I’m ceded - I’ve stopped being Their’s - ” (Fr353), “Papa above!” (Fr151), and “You left me - Sire - two Legacies - ” (Fr713) bespeak continuing faith rooted in childhood religious formation.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1096-858X
Print ISSN
1059-6879
Pages
pp. 1-24
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-30
Open Access
No
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