Abstract

This essay suggests that a number of important poems written by Dickinson during the early 1860s were influenced or inspired by prose works by Harriet E. Prescott Spofford and Rose Terry Cooke, two once-bright stars in the short-lived and ill-defined constellation of authors that a disdainful Henry James (with the title of one of Spofford's romances in mind) later described as the "Azarian school" of American literature. Thomas Wentworth Higginson had already begun to serve as a mentor both for Spofford and for Cooke when, in 1862, Dickinson began her own correspondence with him, and when he inquired as to the extent of her familiarity with Spofford's work, her curious reply ("I read Miss Prescott's 'Circumstance,' but it followed me, in the Dark - so I avoided her - " [L261]) seems to have led most subsequent scholars to assume that the avoidance was permanent rather than temporary and that any indebtedness on Dickinson's part was therefore much less substantial than may have been the case. I argue here, then, that a number of Dickinson's descriptions of moments of great spiritual or psychological intensity—including "'Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch" (Fr425, 1862), "Dare you see a Soul at the 'White Heat'?" (Fr401, 1862), and "I started Early - Took my Dog - " (Fr656, 1863)—are in fact distillations, as it were, of already intense prose passages that she had encountered in "The Amber Gods" (1860), "Circumstance" (1860), "Yet's Christmas Box" (1860), "The South Breaker" (1862), and other self-consciously exotic tales published in the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Monthly—and that we might, in consequence, profitably regard her as a covert member of the "Azarian School."

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Additional Information

ISSN
1096-858X
Print ISSN
1059-6879
Pages
pp. 30-59
Launched on MUSE
2010-04-29
Open Access
No
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