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Emily Dickinson

Paul Crumbley

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0008
Emily Dickinson

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Emily Dickinson was born on 10 December 1830, in the house known as the Homestead, which was built by her paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She would die in the same house on 15 May 1886, but the life she led during her fifty-five years reached far beyond the confines of that single house or the rural community of Amherst. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer and civic leader who held political office for brief periods on the state and national levels; her mother, Emily Norcross, came from a prominent family in nearby Munson. Emily led a happy childhood that included warm relationships with her older brother, Austin; her younger sister, Lavinia; and many friends. Her formal education included a solid grounding at the Amherst Academy and a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. One of Dickinson’s first notable expressions of independence was her refusal to join family and friends who professed their faith as part of the series of religious revivals known as the Second Great Awakening, which peaked in Amherst c. 1850. As the 1850s advanced, Dickinson became increasingly reclusive, such that by the mid-1860s she rarely left the family property. It was during this period that Dickinson was most dedicated to writing poetry, producing the forty small manuscript books known as fascicles between 1858 and 1864 and completing more than two hundred poems a year in 1862, 1863, and 1865. The fascicles represent a form of domestic publication that Dickinson preferred to print publication, largely because she wanted to preserve poetic innovations, such as her dashes, unusual capitalization, and slant rhyme, that she knew editors would normalize. The ten poems published during her lifetime, all anonymously and without her permission, were modified by editors, justifying her concerns. To secure a readership for her poems while also retaining editorial control, Dickinson sent out at least a third of her poems as part of an extensive correspondence. Her closest friend was her sister-in-law and neighbor, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, Austin’s wife. Dickinson communicated with Susan almost daily, frequently sending her poems. Another important correspondent was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a well-known writer and political activist who contributed regularly to the Atlantic Monthly. Dickinson sent Higginson many poems and openly discussed publication, repeatedly asserting that she had no desire to enter print. Helen Hunt Jackson, a childhood friend of Dickinson’s and a well-known poet, aggressively urged Dickinson to publish her poems, despite Dickinson’s continued resistance. It was finally Higginson, together with Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of the Amherst College astronomer David Todd and Austin’s mistress, who edited and published Dickinson’s poems, in 1890.

Article.  15184 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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