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HeapedWordsin the Void: SomeRecent Dickinson Criticism Sharon Cameron. Lyric Time: Dickinson and theLimits of Genre. Baltimore: The Johns HopkinsU~iversity Press, 1979. 280 + x pp. KarlKeller. The OnZv Kangaroo Among the Beauty: Emili-Dickinson and America. Baltimore: The Johns HopkinsUniversity Press, 1979. 340 + xiv pp. Rebecca Patterson. Emily Dickinson's Image!}'· Ed.with intro. by Margaret H. Freeman. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1979. 238+xvii PP· DavidPorter. Dickinson: The Modern Idiom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. 316+xii pp. Charles R. Steele In 1970Willis T. Buckingham published a thorough and invaluable historical surveyof the literary commentary on Emily Dickinson as the introduction to hisEmily Dickinson: An Annotated Bibliography. He identified therein three major, and quite conventional, strains in that commentary: biography, scholarshipand criticism. He identified himself with the academic predilection of our own day by deprecating biographical interests and applauding the effortsof scholars and critics. Now,there is of course, in some measure, good reason for this reaction. Buckingham quite correctly pointed out that in the firsttwo historical eras of Dickinson commentary, "The Period of Todd and Higginson"(1890-1913), and "The Period of Bianchi" (1913-1930), biographical interests dominated both scholarship and criticism, producing on the one hand corrupt editions of Dickinson's writings, and on the other criticism "by epithet," evoking the legend of "the Nun of Amherst," and "calling her anything from the Gnome of Amherst to the American Sappho." Inthe third era, according to Buckingham, the era he entitled "The Johnson era" (1930-1968),biographical concerns receded from dominance and editorial and critical undertakings proved their superior worth. He was especially satisfiedthat the emphasis had switched from the life of the poet to her lifeas artist.Nonetheless, he continued to be worried by the persistent "primordial desireto peep behind Miss Dickinson's window shades," though he expressed the hope, almost the confidence, that "we are armed with Johnson's texts, Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15,Number 1, Spring 1984, 63-71 64 Charles R. Steele Leyda's log, Rosenbaum's concordance, and a history of some excellent criticism among much that is flawed and irrelevant. We have, in short, the tools to seek the poet, Dickinson, and the wisdom to let the White Moth of Amherst fall where she may" (p. xxi). Buckingham's survey is now some dozen years old, but if the four volumes before us at this moment were to be taken as representative of the present state of Dickinson commentary, and I think they could be so taken, then his survey has in some senses proven prophetic. For the shift he applauded has continued. The biographical interest is formative for only one of these four works, and that one the posthumous study by Rebecca Patterson, a refinement and extension of an approach she began to articulate in print some thirty years ago. Patterson's Emi{y Dickinson sImagery focuses, as its title indicates, upon poetic technique, but it also presents the reader with a strong sense of an individual's life,of the artist asperson. That sense is not strongly represented in Karl Keller's The Only Kangaroo Among the Beauty, where Dickinson is depicted as a representative American writer in a line of other representative American writers, and where the emphasis upon the similarity and continuity of all these transforms Dickinson and the others into a series of scarcely distinguishable pieces of patchwork, without individual essences. In Porter's Dickinson: The Modern Idiom and Cameron's Lyric Time, the process of diminishing the artist as person and replacing her with a focus upon the person as artist is carried still further, even to the point where personhood virtually disappears, and even the artist, rather than being elevated as one might have expected, also begins to disappear, certainly to diminish, under the much greater weight of the critic as creator. But more of this later. As mentioned,Emi(v Dickinson'.slmage1y isa posthumous work. The manuscript was not prepared for publication by the author herself. This task was performed by Margaret H. Freeman, whose presence in the text seems to be purely organizational (she admits to altering Patterson's original order of chapters), and otherwise insubstantial. Certainly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 63-71
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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