American Literature Emily Dickinson
by
Paul Crumbley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0008

Introduction

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.

General Overviews

The works listed here provide broad discussions of Dickinson that summarize key features of her life, identify central themes, touch on primary formal issues, and look at representative poems and letters. All these books are designed as introductions for readers approaching Dickinson for the first time and tend to be relatively short. Pickard 1967 is the earliest work included and offers a good discussion of Dickinson’s artistic achievement. Ferlazzo 1984, Dickenson 1985, Robinson 1986, Knapp 1989, and Kirkby 1991 all appeared in less than ten years and are similar in their attention to specific poems and their efforts to model reading practices; of these, Kirkby 1991 is particularly accessible and engaging. Martin 2007 challenges the myth of Dickinson as poet, stressing her engagement with the world. Smith 2007 is the most recent introductory work listed here and the one most attuned to digital resources.

  • Dickenson, Donna. Emily Dickinson. Berg’s Women. Dover, NH: Berg, 1985.

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    Dickenson pays particular attention to the multiple meanings supported by Dickinson’s poems. She does a good job of presenting the compression and complexity essential to Dickinson’s poetic form.

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  • Ferlazzo, Paul J. Emily Dickinson. Twayne’s United States Authors. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

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    Ferlazzo discusses key poems according to familiar subject categories, such as faith, mortality, love, and nature. The book is notable for its focused study of particular poems.

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  • Kirkby, Joan. Emily Dickinson. Women Writers. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1991.

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    Kirkby’s brief introductory volume offers a short biographical essay and an overview of major subjects: nature, the gothic, gender identity, artistic self-creation. Kirkby primarily examines Dickinson’s understanding of the intellect and how she uses language to situate the self in the world.

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  • Knapp, Bettina L. Emily Dickinson. Literature and Life: American Writers. New York: Continuum, 1989.

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    Knapp looks at some of Dickinson’s more challenging poems, providing lively discussions that make clear Dickinson’s refusal to adhere to social conventions that restricted the sphere of female poetic discourse.

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  • Martin, Wendy. The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson. Cambridge Introduction to Literature. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    This introductory volume overturns the myth that Dickinson was an intensely private writer who did not engage with the social issues of her day. Martin organizes the text by concentrating on biography and cultural context in her opening two chapters; she dedicates the remaining two chapters to a discussion of major themes in the poems and letters and an overview of Dickinson’s reception.

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  • Pickard, John B. Emily Dickinson: An Introduction and Interpretation. American Authors and Critics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967.

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    An early introduction to Dickinson’s life and work. Pickard includes a brief chronology at the beginning, two chapters that detail early life and artistic maturity, two chapters that focus on artistic principles and practice, four that examine primary themes, and a concluding assessment of her achievement.

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  • Robinson, John. Emily Dickinson: Looking to Canaan. A Faber Student Guide. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1986.

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    Good overview of the intellectual and artistic influences that shaped Dickinson’s writing. Robinson gives careful readings of central poems that move easily between poems and letters, in accessible prose.

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  • Smith, Martha Nell. Emily Dickinson: A User’s Guide. Blackwell Introductions to Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

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    An introduction that studies Dickinson’s life, major poems and letters, and critical reception. This work is particularly good at emphasizing the experience of reading Dickinson and identifying digital resources, such as the Dickinson Electronic Archives (cited under Digital Resources).

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Reference Works

Reference works include the volumes considered indispensable to serious study of Dickinson’s poems and letters, such as the Rosenbaum 1964 and MacKenzie 2000 concordances. Both of these are fully reliable. Eberwein 1998 is an impressive compendium of facts related to all aspects of Dickinson’s life and work that is as useful for novices as for serious scholars. The Emily Dickinson Lexicon provides access to the Dickinson family dictionary and is also an essential resource. Duchac 1979, Duchac 1993, Leiter 2007, and Vendler 2010 are not essential resources in the same sense, but each offers commentaries that are especially helpful for readers seeking direction in the interpretation of specific poems.

  • Duchac, Joseph. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: An Annotated Guide to Commentary Published in English, 1890–1977. Boston: Hall, 1979.

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    This text brings together commentaries published by Dickinson scholars and critics on specific poems. A valuable source of information that also provides a sense of how interpretation evolved during the first eighty-eight years of publication.

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  • Duchac, Joseph. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: An Annotated Guide to Commentary Published in English, 1978–1989. New York: Hall, 1993.

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    This is the second Duchac volume, and it picks up where Duchac 1979 left off. Like the first volume, this text is valuable because it brings together the work of multiple scholars and gives a sense of the range of interpretations proposed for specific poems.

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  • Eberwein, Jane Donahue, ed. An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

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    A highly reliable and accessible resource that is useful for general readers and Dickinson scholars. Entries are all well written and carefully edited. Topics cover the full range of interests related to Dickinson, from family members, to newspapers, to readings of selected poems.

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  • Hallen, Cynthia L., ed. Emily Dickinson Lexicon.

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    A comprehensive dictionary of more than 9,275 words and word variants that appear in Dickinson poems. Definitions are based on Noah Webster’s 1844 American Dictionary of the American Language. The site also provides access to all 82,971 entries in Webster’s 1844 dictionary.

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  • Leiter, Sharon. Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work. Facts on File Library of American Literature. New York: Facts on File, 2007.

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    A highly readable reference work that covers Dickinson’s life, letters, and poems, as well as social and cultural context. The heart of the book is Leiter’s thoughtful and balanced examination of more than 150 individual poems, which includes cross-referencing to useful materials, applications of Dickinson’s lexicon, considerations of manuscript and publication history, and cultural commentary.

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  • MacKenzie, Cynthia, ed. A Concordance to the Letters of Emily Dickinson. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000.

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    All the words from Dickinson’s correspondence are listed in alphabetical order and linked to the volume, page, and line in which the word appears in the Johnson and Ward edition of the letters (Dickinson 1958, cited under Scholarly Print Editions). This is an essential resource.

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  • Rosenbaum, S. P., ed. A Concordance to the Poems of Emily Dickinson. Cornell Concordances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1964.

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    All the words from Dickinson’s poems are listed in alphabetical order and linked to the lines in poems in which they appear. Each poem is identified by first line and poem number from the Johnson edition (Dickinson 1955, cited under Scholarly Print Editions).

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  • Vendler, Helen. Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

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    An examination of 150 poems that represent the full range of Dickinson’s major themes. Vendler’s commentaries are a valuable resource for newcomers to Dickinson as well as for scholars.

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Bibliographies

Works appearing in this section list publications by Dickinson together with works published about Dickinson and some of the more specialized areas of interest that have grown up around her life and work. As a consequence, here you will find Capps 1966, an account of the books Dickinson read; Lowenberg 1986, a listing of Dickinson’s textbooks; and Lowenberg 1992, a record of musical compositions based on Dickinson’s writing. Buckingham 1970 accounts for books, films, and family papers and includes responses from outside the United States. Woodress 1984 identifies editions of Dickinson’s writings, research tools, and critical responses. Myerson 1984 describes all editions of Dickinson’s writing published from 1890 up to this time. The Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin provides the most complete listing of publications, along with descriptions and reviews. The major biographies and bibliographic accounts of Dickinson’s critical reception appear under Biographies and Reception.

  • Buckingham. Willis J., ed. Emily Dickinson: An Annotated Bibliography: Writings, Scholarship, Criticism, and Ana, 1850–1968. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

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    An excellent comprehensive resource that contains more than two thousand entries. This volume is notable for its inclusion of foreign language studies, theses, films, exhibitions, and Dickinson family papers.

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  • Capps, Jack L. Emily Dickinson’s Reading, 1836–1886. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966.

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    This is the primary scholarly resource for the identification and discussion of the publications Dickinson read over the course of her life. Capps argues that the broad scope of Dickinson’s reading amply demonstrates that her seclusion within the family home should not be confused with intellectual isolation.

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  • Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin. 1989–.

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    This is a twice-yearly newsletter published by the Emily Dickinson International Society. Each issue contains a “New Publications” section that is the most comprehensive description available for recent books and articles pertaining to Dickinson.

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  • Lowenberg, Carlton. Emily Dickinson’s Textbooks. Edited by Territa A. Lowenberg and Carla L. Brown. Lafayette, CA: Lowenberg, 1986.

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    This is the most complete single listing of textbooks Dickinson encountered at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary as well as in her family library. Lowenberg annotates each entry, including useful assessments of each textbook’s contribution to Dickinson’s thought and writing.

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  • Lowenberg, Carlton. Musicians Wrestle Everywhere: Emily Dickinson and Music. Fallen Leaf Reference Books in Music. Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf, 1992.

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    This is the most complete single account of the way Dickinson’s writing has inspired musical composition. Lowenberg identifies more than 1,600 works, indexes them by performance medium, and provides cross-references for poems. The volume also includes profiles of 19th-century composers and lists works that examine Dickinson’s personal interest in music.

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  • Myerson, Joel. Emily Dickinson: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.

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    A precise description of all editions of Dickinson’s poems and letters published from 1890 up to this time. Myerson does not address publications linked to criticism, scholarly research, reception, or the poet’s life.

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  • Woodress, James. “Emily Dickinson.” In 15 American Authors before 1900: Bibliographic Essays on Research and Criticism. Rev. ed. Edited by Earl N. Harbert and Robert A. Rees, 185–229. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

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    Woodress addresses the explosion in Dickinson criticism and research tools that followed the appearance of Johnson’s variorum (Dickinson 1955, cited under Scholarly Print Editions). His chapter is broken into six sections: “Bibliography and Concordance,” “Editions,” “Manuscripts and Letters,” “Biography,” “Criticism,” and “Dickinson Scholarship Since 1970.” The biography section is noteworthy for demonstrating how vigorously biographers sought to identify the mysterious unnamed lover thought to hover behind the poems.

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Biographies

Sewall 1974, for which the author earned a National Book Award, remains the standard work. Earlier biographies all make important contributions, but none achieve the degree of historical specificity and understanding of Dickinson’s position in literary history that Sewall brings to his study. Leyda 1960 is the one work that precedes Sewall and that still retains its status as a significant milestone in Dickinson biography because of the quality of the research. The other works cited below represent important biographies published after Sewall that, in their own way, build on what Sewall achieved. Wolff 1986 offers a highly readable feminist biography that gives special attention to voice. Habegger 2001 is an excellent chronological biography, with readings of poems based on biographical circumstances. Wineapple 2008 is the best account of Dickinson’s relationship with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Gordon 2010 is a provocative treatment of Mabel Loomis Todd’s affair with Austin Dickinson and the resulting “war between the houses.” Dickinson and Todd 1984 and Longsworth 1990 are the best sources of biographical information about the Dickinson family and the Amherst community. Biographies that are psychological in orientation can be found under Psychological Studies.

  • Dickinson, Austin, and Mary Loomis Todd. Austin and Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd. Edited by Polly Longsworth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.

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    Traces the war between the houses that originated in 1882, when Austin’s love affair with Mabel Loomis Todd began. Longsworth provides background for Austin and Mabel, examines the letters that passed between them, describes the first publication of Dickinson’s poems, and concludes with an account of the court case over family property.

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  • Gordon, Lyndall. Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds. New York: Viking, 2010.

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    Gordon chronicles tensions within the Dickinson family over the public affair Austin carried on with Mabel Loomis Todd and the management of Dickinson’s literary estate. In her treatment of Dickinson’s family history and early life, Gordon proposes that Dickinson suffered from epilepsy. Scholars have questioned this observation.

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  • Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Random House, 2001.

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    An excellent chronological treatment of Dickinson’s life that traces the development of her literary art as an expression of her family history and the culture she inhabited. Habegger takes into consideration the family’s financial vicissitudes, 19th-century writers, philosophical and theological currents, political influences, and central friendships.

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  • Leyda, Jay. The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1960.

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    A highly detailed chronology of events between 1828 and 1886, based on excerpts from newspapers and lectures and other events that shaped the world Dickinson inhabited.

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  • Longsworth, Polly. The World of Emily Dickinson: A Visual Biography. New York: Norton, 1990.

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    An excellent selection of photographs, maps, paintings, and illustrations of the people and places that made up the visual world Dickinson inhabited. Photographs of key people, street scenes, and buildings are especially useful.

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  • Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson. 2 vols. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974.

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    This is the standard Dickinson biography. Sewall’s first volume looks at the Dickinson family, paying particular attention to family members and tensions that emerged in Dickinson’s later life and that extend to the publication of her poems; the second volume concentrates on chronological treatment of the life, with special attention to central friendships. Sewall opens his work with an extremely helpful thirteen-page chronology.

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  • Wineapple, Brenda. White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. New York: Knopf, 2008.

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    The most detailed account of the way the lives of Higginson and Dickinson intertwined. Beginning with an introductory overview, the first third of the book traces the life of each up to the moment Dickinson opens her correspondence with Higginson, in 1862. The remaining two-thirds places the two lives in relation to one another, giving particular emphasis to how different each was, what they saw in each other, and why the relationship thrived.

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  • Wolff, Cynthia Griffen. Emily Dickinson. New York: Knopf, 1986.

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    A solid critical biography that focuses in particular on the poet’s voice. Wolff develops the argument that Dickinson “fell into language” as a consequence of being denied primary intimacy by her mother during the earliest years of her life. Her mother’s tendency to avoid eye contact and other nonverbal expressions of affection contributed to Dickinson’s dependence on language to form intimate relations with the world that extended to family, friends, readers, and her journey of religious faith.

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Personal Reminiscences

This section contains works based on direct encounters with Dickinson that frequently reflect some degree of bias, resulting from family identity or a desire to capitalize on association with the poet. Bianchi 1932, Bingham 1945, and Bingham 1955 quite naturally convey the efforts of these authors to correct what they understood to be inaccurate representations of their families, whose reputations they saw as colored by the Austin and Mabel affair and the struggle to control Dickinson’s manuscripts. Jenkins 1930 is charming in its own way but quite clearly romanticized.

  • Bianchi, Martha Dickinson. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932.

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    As the daughter of Austin and Susan Dickinson, Bianchi’s recollections are important sources of information about family life and cultural context, written by a family member who spent the first two decades of her life in close proximity to the poet.

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  • Bingham, Millicent Todd. Ancestor’s Brocades: The Literary Debut of Emily Dickinson. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1945.

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    Bingham’s status as the daughter of Mabel Loomis Todd allowed her access to her mother’s papers regarding the initial publication of Dickinson’s poems and letters. She also draws on personal recollections based on the first six years of her life, when the poet was still alive, and on her adolescent years, when her mother worked first with Higginson and later by herself to edit and publish additional poems and letters.

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  • Bingham, Millicent Todd. Emily Dickinson’s Home: Letters of Edward Dickinson and His Family. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955.

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    This is a good source of information regarding the context of Dickinson’s daily life, especially the town of Amherst, family relations, and daily routines.

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  • Jenkins, MacGregor. Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1930.

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    Jenkins’s recollections are based on the first seven years of his life, when he was a neighbor of the Dickinson family. This period, approximately 1870 to 1877, conveys the impressions of a young child who was delighted by the poet’s lowering of baskets containing gingerbread from an upstairs window.

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Journals

Scholarship on Dickinson regularly appears in all the major literary journals, most notably, American Literature, Legacy, American Literary History, and Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. However, there are only two periodicals that deal exclusively with Dickinson, both of which have proven to be rich sources of information useful to scholars. The Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin is an excellent ongoing resource for information about annual meetings and conferences sponsored by the Emily Dickinson International Society as well as commentaries on issues of interest to nonacademics and scholars. The Emily Dickinson Journal is designed primarily for academics and is a very fine source of current Dickinson scholarship.

  • Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin. 1989–.

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    A twice-yearly publication published by the Emily Dickinson International Society. This is more than an informational publication that reports on society events, though that is one of its primary functions. It also contains regular reviews of Dickinson publications (essays and books) plus features dealing with Dickinson and the arts, the contributions of important Dickinson scholars, and discussions by modern-day poets of Dickinson’s influence on their work. The Bulletin is frequently cited in scholarly publications.

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  • Emily Dickinson Journal. 1992–.

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    A twice-yearly journal published by the Emily Dickinson International Society. This is the only academic journal dedicated entirely to Dickinson and the best single source for current Dickinson scholarship. Each issue contains essays by established and emerging Dickinson scholars plus reviews of important Dickinson books.

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Primary Texts

The works listed here represent all the best-known editions of Dickinson’s poems and letters in digital and print formats. With the growth in digital technology, new online digital sources could emerge any day, and the digital editions mentioned below could easily increase the number of documents they contain. The primary print archives for Dickinson’s poems and letters are the Houghton Library of Harvard University and Robert Frost Library at Amherst College. Additional poems and letters appear at various libraries too numerous to list here.

Digital Resources

Digital archives are the newest point of access to images of Dickinson’s holograph manuscripts. Because of the expense associated with Franklin’s Manuscript Books (Dickinson 1981, cited under Scholarly Print Editions) and the difficulty of gaining access to special collections, these resources promise to become increasingly popular, especially as more and more materials are placed online. A distinct advantage of these archives is the ease they bring to searches for keywords, names, dates, and images. The Dickinson Electronic Archives is a rich resource for writings by the Dickinson family and digital representations of holographs. Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry presents digital representations of the correspondence between Emily and Susan Dickinson.

Scholarly Print Editions

These editions represent the standard scholarly resources used for any serious study of Dickinson’s poems and letters. The variorum Dickinson 1955 is frequently cited along with Dickinson 1998b, but when only one variorum is referenced the latter is the preferred edition. Dickinson 1981 is the standard scholarly resource for images of the fascicle poems. Dickinson 1958 remains the standard edition of the letters Dickinson 1998a, an edition of Dickinson’s correspondence with Susan, is equally authoritative and can be substituted for Johnson and Ward (Dickinson 1958) in scholarly discussions of that particular correspondence. Dickinson 1986, an edition of the Master Letters, provides holograph images not available in Dickinson 1958. Dickinson 1995 is the only print source for holograph images of Dickinson’s correspondence with Judge Otis P. Lord. Sewall 1965 is the best source for print versions of the Lyman correspondence, and Pollak 1988 is the best source for the courtship letters exchanged by Dickinson’s parents.

  • Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955.

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    This is the first variorum edition of Dickinson’s poems. With 1,775 poems, it is the largest collection of Dickinson poems assembled up to this time. Johnson provides introductory essays describing Dickinson’s creative process and characteristics of her handwriting, notes on all the poems, a subject index, and eleven additional indexes that offer sketches of recipients and touch on such matters as dating and yearly production.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958.

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    This is the standard scholarly edition of the letters. It contains a useful introduction and complete notes on Dickinson’s letters and prose fragments plus some correspondence from others, such as Helen Hunt Jackson, Thomas Niles, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Three appendixes provide short sketches on recipients of letters and domestic help.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson. 2 vols. Edited by R. W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

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    A photographic facsimile edition of the Dickinson holograph manuscripts that have been referred to as her fascicles and sets. The volumes include her forty bound fascicle gatherings plus the unbound sheets arranged as fifteen sets. Franklin contributes an essential introduction and eleven appendixes dedicated to factual matters related the fascicles, such as paper and dates, measurement, and poem titles.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson. Edited by R. W. Franklin. Amherst, MA: Amherst College Press, 1986.

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    Contains the three letters Dickinson wrote in 1858 and 1861 to the person she referred to as “master.” Franklin includes photographic facsimiles and print transcriptions of the letters. He also includes an envelope containing photocopies of the holograph letters on separate sheets of paper of the size Dickinson used. These have Dickinson’s writing on both sides.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing. Edited by Marta L. Werner. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

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    Werner provides photographic facsimiles of forty late holograph drafts of poems and letters that may or may not have been sent to Judge Otis P. Lord. The volume includes an introduction and two chapters commenting on editorial process and procedure in addition to eight appendixes commenting on such matters as dating, paper type, and history of manuscript ownership.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson. Edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith. Ashfield, MA: Paris Press, 1998a.

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    Hart and Smith provide diplomatic transcriptions of 254 poems, letters, and letter-poems that constitute the existing record of Dickinson’s correspondence with Susan Huntington Dickinson. These transcriptions respect the visual arrangement of Dickinson’s poems and letters so that readers can see the line breaks and spacing as they appear in the manuscripts. Hart and Smith include twenty poems and one letter not previously linked to Susan. The volume also includes a useful introduction, notes on the documents, and a chronology.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition. 3 vols. Edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998b.

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    In this more recent variorum edition of the Dickinson poems, Franklin increases the total number of poems from the 1,775 that Johnson included to 1,789 and provides a descriptive apparatus identifying line breaks and variants. The volume includes notes on all poems, an illuminating introductory essay, and fourteen appendixes that touch on such matters as recipients, distribution by year, and poems published in Dickinson’s lifetime.

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  • Pollak, Vivian R. A Poet’s Parents: The Courtship Letters of Emily Norcross and Edward Dickinson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

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    An annotated edition of all the existing courtship letters that passed between Dickinson’s parents, Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross. This is a useful source of information about the family environment that was so important to the poet.

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  • Sewall, Richard B. The Lyman Letters: New Light on Emily Dickinson and Her Family. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1965.

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    Contains letters by and to Joseph Bardwell Lyman, who lived in the Dickinson home during the 1840s. Sewall includes nine letters from Emily, two from her sister, Lavinia, and one from Austin, none of which have ever been published before in their entirety.

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Early Print Editions and Reprints

The volumes that appear in this section include the first three editions of Dickinson’s poems that were published: Dickinson 1890, Dickinson 1891, and Dickinson 1896. These are of interest primarily as records of the editorial processes associated with Dickinson’s initial posthumous publication. Dickinson 1967 is the most reliable reprint of the first three editions, but Dickinson 1991 is more widely available.

  • Dickinson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson. Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890.

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    This is the first edition of Dickinson poems, notable for editorial decisions regarding selection and revision as well for as Higginson’s preface.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson, Second Series. Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1891.

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    This is the second edition of Dickinson’s poems. Like the first edition, this one is also notable for editorial revisions and for its preface. In this instance, the preface is by Mabel Loomis Todd and includes a quotation from a letter to Dickinson from Helen Hunt Jackson.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson, Third Series. Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896.

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    Higginson did not collaborate with Todd on this third edition of Dickinson’s poems. Todd wrote the preface and is solely responsible for editorial revisions.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Poems, 1890–1896. Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson. Gainesville, FL: Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967.

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    This is the best of the reprint editions of the first three volumes of Dickinson’s poetry.

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  • Dickinson, Emily. Emily Dickinson: Collected Poems. Edited by Peter Siegenthaler. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1991.

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    A reprint of the 1890, 1891, and 1896 editions of the poems, plus The Single Hound (1914). This is valuable because it presents these early editions together with the original prefaces by Higginson and Todd. Some minor transcription errors.

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Selected Works

The works listed here represent a combination of authoritative editions and editions that are worthy of note because they include revealing introductory essays or editorial decisions that communicate a sense of the critical debates that have attended the publication of Dickinson’s poems. Dickinson 1924 contains an introduction by Conrad Aiken, and Todd 1951 includes an introduction by Mark Van Doren. Linscott 1959 selects both poems and letters and includes an abridged version of Higginson’s Atlantic Monthly essay detailing his correspondence with Dickinson. Reeves 1966 is valuable because in the author’s lengthy introduction he rejects Thomas H. Johnson’s early editorial efforts to respect Dickinson’s punctuation and capitalization (Dickinson 1955, cited under Scholarly Print Editions). Johnson 1985 is the standard selection, drawn from the 1958 letters (Dickinson 1958, cited under Scholarly Print Editions), and Johnson 1961 is the most authoritative edition of the poems published as selected works.

Reception

These works identify the critical response to Dickinson’s poems and letters, as centered primarily in the United States. Some, such as Lubbers 1968 and White 2008, assess dominant themes and evaluate specific approaches; others, such as Blake and Wells 1964, Buckingham 1989, and Clarke 2002, aim to document rather than evaluate. American Literary Scholarship identifies the best Dickinson publication on an annual basis. The Emily Dickinson Journal is an excellent source for critical reviews of major Dickinson publications. Bingham 1945 is an important early resource but reflects the bias of the author. All these works qualify as bibliographic works but appear in this section because critical reception constitutes a distinct field of literary inquiry.

  • American Literary Scholarship. 1963–.

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    An annual publication sponsored by the Modern Language Association Section on American Literature, this is the best source of information on Dickinson books and essays published each year since 1963. Dickinson publications appear in a separate chapter that has, since the late 20th century, been dedicated to Walt Whitman and Dickinson and that is compiled by prominent Dickinson scholars.

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  • Bingham, Millicent Todd. Ancestors’ Brocades: The Literary Début of Emily Dickinson. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1945.

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    An account of Dickinson’s literary emergence, written by the daughter of Mabel Loomis Todd, who coedited the first two editions of Dickinson’s poems with Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Bingham narrates the process of preparing poem and letters for publication, the earliest reception, and the Todd lawsuit. The two chapters titled “The ‘Auction’” and “The ‘Auction’—continued” include reviews published between 1890 and 1896.

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  • Blake, Caesar R., and Carlton F. Wells, eds. The Recognition of Emily Dickinson: Selected Criticism since 1890. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964.

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    Blake and Wells present three phases of Dickinson’s critical reception: 1890–1900, 1901–1930, and 1931–1960. This is a valuable cross-section of early Dickinson criticism that includes two of Higginson’s first published assessments and Andrew Lang’s famous castigation of the poet as well as representative later responses from the likes of Elizabeth Shepley Sergant, Hart Crane, Allen Tate, and F. O. Matthiessen.

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  • Buckingham, Willis J. Emily Dickinson’s Reception in the 1890s: A Documentary History. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.

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    A comprehensive reprinting of reviews published in England and the United States in response to the first three collections of Dickinson poems. This is an essential resource for understanding Dickinson’s earliest reception.

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  • Clarke, Graham. Emily Dickinson: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. The Helm Information Critical Assessments of Writers in English. Mountfield, UK: Helm Information, 2002.

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    An extensive survey that includes early biographies, the early reviews that also appear in Buckingham 1989, and literary criticism up to the time of publication.

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  • Emily Dickinson Journal. 1992–.

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    This is a twice-yearly journal continuously published by the Emily Dickinson International Society since 1992. This is the only academic journal dedicated entirely to Dickinson and is the best single source for Dickinson scholarship. Each issue contains reviews of important Dickinson books.

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  • Lubbers, Klaus. Emily Dickinson: The Critical Revolution. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

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    This is the best survey of materials by and about Dickinson, covering the period 1862—1962. Lubbers divides the critical reception into three phases: 1862–1897, including her lifetime and first publications; 1897–1930, the rediscovery phase; and 1930–1962, the consolidation phase.

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  • White, Fred D. Approaching Emily Dickinson: Critical Currents and Crosscurrents since 1960. Studies in American Literature and Culture: Literary Criticism in Perspective. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008.

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    A highly readable survey of materials by and about Dickinson that picks up in 1962, where Lubbers 1968 ends. Especially useful in tracking the explosion of scholarship that followed the publication of Johnson’s 1955 variorum (Dickinson 1955, cited under Scholarly Print Editions) and the publication of Franklin’s Manuscript Books (Dickinson 1981, cited under Scholarly Print Editions).

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International Reception

Dickinson’s international reception deserves a separate category because of the increase in publications about Dickinson now being produced by international scholars. As these works continue to grow in number, the field of Dickinson’s international reception is bound to become an even more important area of scholarly interest. Lilliedahl 1981 concentrates on northern Europe, whereas Mitchell and Stuart 2009 covers more of Europe and five non-European countries.

  • Lilliedahl, Ann. Emily Dickinson in Europe: Her Literary Reputation in Selected Countries. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1981.

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    This bibliography concentrates on critical assessments of Dickinson published in four cultural and geographic regions: Sweden, Norway and Denmark, France, and Germany.

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  • Mitchell, Domhnall, and Maria Stuart, eds. The International Reception of Emily Dickinson. Continuum Reception Studies. New York: Continuum, 2009.

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    Twelve Dickinson scholars representing eighteen different countries discuss reception, translation, and the way Dickinson has emerged in other artistic media. The book tends to be Eurocentric in focus, though it includes notable chapters on Australia, Brazil, French Canada, Israel, and Japan.

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Criticism

The books listed here all represent efforts to account for the entire sweep of Dickinson’s writing. Barnstone 2006 addresses Dickinson’s creative life chronologically, whereas Eberwein 1985 and Weisbuch 1975 concentrate more on artistic concerns and Dickinson’s writing practice. Porter 1981 and Stonum 1990 illuminate pervasive theoretical and philosophical orientations. Spengemann 2010 is dedicated to formal questions related to style and poetic technique. Unlike the works identified earlier as General Overviews, these texts are not designed for readers new to Dickinson.

  • Barnstone, Aliki. Changing Rapture: Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Development. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2006.

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    Barnstone challenges the critical view that Dickinson’s poetic style did not evolve over the course of her life by proposing four distinct stages of development. Central to these stages are Dickinson’s relation to Calvinism and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental understanding of nature.

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  • Eberwein, Jane Donahue. Dickinson: Strategies of Limitation. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.

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    Eberwein describes Dickinson’s skeptical stance as a determined effort to confront the limitations of understanding in order to push beyond them. Eberwein examines many of Dickinson’s best-known poems as concentrated efforts to expand the circumference of personal experience. According to Eberwein, Dickinson narrowed the scope of her life in an effort to intensify her scrutiny of key subjects, such as poetic power, death, and the divine. Discussion of Dickinson’s religious thought is particularly illuminating.

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  • Porter, David. Emily Dickinson: The Modern Idiom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

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    An influential, theoretically grounded postmodern study that approaches Dickinson’s writing as sealed off from the surrounding world. Porter provides thoughtful and at times provocative readings of major poems.

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  • Spengemann, William C. “Sorting with Emily Dickinson.” In Three American Poets: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville. By William C. Spengemann, 63–152. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.

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    Spengemann’s essay on Dickinson is the longest in the collection and offers useful analysis of core formal and thematic concerns. These include grammar, sentence structure, dashes, rhyme, use of ambiguity, nature, God, the Civil War, and death. Each item is supported by abundant references to poems that demonstrate Dickinson’s breadth and density of overlapping interests.

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  • Stonum, Gary Lee. The Dickinson Sublime. The Wisconsin Project on American Writers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

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    A wonderful analysis of Dickinson’s affective style and her engagement with the reader’s imagination. The title reflects Stonum’s interest in Dickinson’s representation of an unresolved or postponed sublime that she develops through poetic spectacles that require reader participation.

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  • Weisbuch, Robert. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

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    A sound introduction to basic principles helpful in reading Dickinson’s poems. Weisbuch emphasizes Dickinson’s use of analogy and explains how reading the poetry illuminates the thought processes of the poet and the reader.

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Collections

The works listed here are collections intended to provide representative samplings of the most important critical essays addressing Dickinson’s life and work. Grabher, et al. 1998 and Smith and Loeffelholz 2008 are the largest in terms of size and offer the most comprehensive coverage of the field. Bloom 2008 and Bouson 2011 present previously published essays; Bloom shows how criticism has changed over time, and Bouson concentrates on the state of scholarship in the early 21st century. Farr 1996 is an admirably balanced assemblage of short and accessible essays by major scholars. Martin 2002 includes essays by major scholars, but some are fairly specialized and will appeal more to the scholar than the general reader. Pollak 2004 is a wonderfully accessible source of historical information.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Emily Dickinson. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 2008.

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    This volume contains an introduction by Bloom, thirteen chronologically arranged essays representing a variety of approaches to Dickinson’s work, and a chronology.

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  • Bouson, J. Brooks, ed. Emily Dickinson. Critical Insights. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 2011.

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    A collection of reprinted essays by important Dickinson scholars. Lacks work by major scholars working in textual studies and manuscript studies but otherwise provides a good overview of the state of Dickinson scholarship in the early 21st century.

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  • Farr, Judith, ed. Emily Dickinson: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Century Views. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.

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    An admirably balanced collection of critical essays by major scholars whose contributions cover the full range of Dickinson studies. This is a good representative sampling of the state of criticism at the time. The essays are short and accessible.

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  • Grabher, Gudrun, Roland Hagenbüchle, and Cristanne Miller, eds. The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

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    One of the most comprehensive volumes of Dickinson criticism, with contributions by twenty-two major international scholars. Essays are categorized according to biography, historical context, manuscript study, correspondence, poetics, reception, and directions of future scholarship.

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  • Martin, Wendy, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Emily Dickinson. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521806445Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This collection of twelve new essays provides a clear cross-section of major scholarly interests. The essays are organized according to biography and publication history, poetic strategies and themes, and cultural context.

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  • Pollak, Vivian R, ed. A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. Historical Guides to American Authors. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    An excellent source of historical background presented in an accessible form useful for scholars and readers new to Dickinson. The volume opens with a focused and highly readable biographical essay and includes six additional essays by important scholars, concluding with an illustrated chronology and a bibliographical essay.

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  • Smith, Martha Nell, and Mary Loeffelholz, eds. A Companion to Emily Dickinson. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

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    This is the most extensive early-21st-century collection of essays by major international scholars. It is unusual in its efforts to represent the full range of Dickinson scholarship shaping the field. The twenty-six essays cover biography, the Civil War, cultural contexts, manuscript scholarship and digital resources, and Dickinson’s legacy in poetry and media.

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Correspondence

The books listed here represent works dedicated entirely to the aims of letter writing and correspondence in general. All four are either dedicated exclusively to Dickinson or contain significant chapters that focus primarily on Dickinson. Messmer 2001 is the only monograph focusing exclusively to the letters and is an excellent resource. Eberwein and MacKenzie 2009 is the only collection of scholarly essays completely devoted to the letters. Decker 1998 and Hewitt 2004 both have important chapters addressing Dickinson’s correspondence. Most books about Dickinson contain some discussion of her correspondence, and many even have chapters that deal solely with the letters. These works are not included in this category because their studies of the letters tend to serve overarching arguments that are not concerned with questions related specifically to correspondence. For instance, Martha Nell Smith, Ellen Louise Hart, and Domhnall Mitchell all write extensively about the Dickinson letters, but their focus is on genre, manuscript scholarship, and prosody. As a consequence, works by these authors appear under alternative headings.

  • Decker, William Merrill. Epistolary Practices: Letter Writing in America before Telecommunications. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

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    Decker succeeds in his aim of illuminating the important role that letter writing played in American culture, from the colonial period through the 19th century. He includes John Winthrop, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson along with Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and a host of others, not all as well known.

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  • Eberwein, Jane Donahue, and Cindy MacKenzie, eds. Reading Emily Dickinson’s Letters: Critical Essays. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.

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    The first and only collection of scholarly essays dedicated exclusively to Dickinson’s correspondence, this volume is an important resource for anyone interested in studying or writing about the letters. Individual essays look at a range of subjects, including exchanges with specific recipients, the poetics of letter writing, letters as expressions of condolence, Dickinson’s sense of audience, and gift exchange.

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  • Hewitt, Elizabeth. Correspondence and American Literature, 1770–1865. Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511485541Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A fascinating analysis of letter writing as a genre crucial to the development of social and political themes central to the aims of important American writers. Hewitt opens with an overview of the political function of letters then dedicates chapters to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Harriet Jacobs, and Dickinson. The chapter on Dickinson, “Dickinson’s Lyrical Letters,” concentrates on the way her letters illuminate the social concerns that are at the heart of her poetry.

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  • Messmer, Marietta. A Vice for Voices: Reading Emily Dickinson’s Correspondence. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

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    Messmer’s elegant and well-researched volume is the only monograph that deals exclusively with Dickinson’s letters. Beginning with a solid overview of previous critical responses, Messmer situates Dickinson in the context of 19th-century epistolary conventions, explores her writing as a reflection of gender expectations, and makes the case for her creation of multiple voices. Not everyone will agree with Messmer, but all will benefit from this seminal study.

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American Culture

Works in this category examine Dickinson’s relation to trends, social movements, and intellectual and artistic currents that shaped 19th-century American culture. Books listed here touch on artistic fads, democratic politics, sentimental culture, and religious beliefs. A certain amount of overlap with other categories is unavoidable, as these writers engage cultural developments that also informed transatlantic culture and include discussions of writers who shaped Dickinson’s thought. Benfey 2008 presents a highly readable and engaging account of Dickinson’s participation in post–Civil War fascination with hummingbirds. Crumbley 2010 illuminates the political dimension of Dickinson’s writing through particularly accessible chapters on spiritualism, rhetoric, and gift culture. Lease 1990 is an important early investigation of Dickinson’s relation to spiritualism. St. Armand 1984 and Noble 2000 offer the best studies of Dickinson immersion in sentimental culture. Wolosky 2010 sees Dickinson’s poetry as contributing directly to a changing American identity that affects all aspects of culture, including economics and politics.

  • Benfey, Christopher. A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. New York: Penguin, 2008.

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    Using the career of the painter Martin Johnson Heade as a connecting thread that loosely unites the many lives that enter his chapters, Benfey elegantly weaves into his text clear evidence that hummingbirds figured prominently in Dickinson’s world through their presence in literary and scientific circles as well as the visual arts.

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  • Crumbley, Paul. Winds of Will: Emily Dickinson and the Sovereignty of Democratic Thought. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010.

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    This is the only book-length study that consistently focuses on the political implications of Dickinson’s writing. Dickinson is presented as a democratic writer who requires readers to develop a democratic habit of thought. Crumbley dedicates chapters to reading as a democratic act, democratic rhetoric, the politics of gift exchange, the spiritualist movement, and copyright and publication.

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  • Lease, Benjamin. Emily Dickinson’s Readings of Men and Books: Sacred Soundings Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1990.

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    Lease examines Dickinson’s relationships with Charles Wadsworth and Thomas Wentworth Higginson as these inform her understanding of religion, William Shakespeare, the Bible, and the hymns of Isaac Watts. This book is important as an early investigation of the role of spiritualism in Dickinson’s writing.

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  • Noble, Marianne. The Masochistic Pleasures of Sentimental Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Noble explains how tropes of eroticized domination common in 19th-century sentimental literature ought to be understood as sources of female empowerment as well as oppression. Dickinson is read in the context of other important 19th-century American women writers.

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  • St. Armand, Barton Levi. Emily Dickinson and Her Culture: The Soul’s Society. Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    This is one of the very best sources for information about Dickinson’s relation to 19th-century sentimental culture. St. Armand does a particularly good job of explaining how Dickinson’s death poems integrate prominent religious practices and beliefs. He also links Dickinson to Lydia Hunt Sigourney, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Ruskin, and Victorian aesthetics.

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  • Wolosky, Shira. Poetry and Public Discourse in Nineteenth-Century America. Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230113008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important, well-researched, and accessible source of information about the cultural and political function of poetry in the 19th century. Wolosky describes Dickinson’s texts as “scenes of cultural crossroad[s], situated within and acting as an arena for the many profound transitions taking place around her” (p. 15).

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American Writers

The works listed here by no means cover all the fine works that examine Dickinson’s relationship with other American writers. These books position Dickinson in the context of male and female writers without privileging one gender over the other. Texts that concentrate on Dickinson and other American women writers appear under Women Writers and Literary History. Additional books treating Dickinson’s relation to contemporaries, male and female, can also be found under multiple headings, including American Culture and Transatlantic Culture. Keller 1979 places Dickinson within American literary tradition, beginning with the colonial period. Salska 1985 looks at Dickinson’s relation to Walt Whitman. Reynolds 2011 explains Dickinson’s affinity with popular literature of the 19th century. Sánchez-Eppler 1993 puts Dickinson in the context of Whitman and Harriet Jacobs. Kearns 2010 concentrates on the complicated nature of Dickinson’s and Melville’s relation to copyright and the print marketplace.

  • Kearns, Michael. Writing for the Street, Writing for the Garrett: Melville, Dickinson, and Private Publication. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010.

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    Kearns looks at the way marketplace economics and the legal requirements of copyright shaped the literary choices of Melville and Dickinson.

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  • Keller, Karl. The Only Kangaroo among the Beauty: Emily Dickinson and America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

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    A highly readable analysis of Dickinson’s work that positions Dickinson in the context of American writers from the colonial period to the 20th century. Keller devotes chapters to Dickinson and Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman, and Robert Frost.

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  • Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    The product of extensive research, this work situates Dickinson in the context of women writers during the period beginning in the 1850s that Reynolds refers to as the “American Women’s Renaissance.” In his chapter on Dickinson, Reynolds presents her as representative of the subversive writing being produced by other women writers but distinctive for the violent and disjunctive power of her imagery.

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  • Salska, Agnieszka. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson: Poetry of the Central Consciousness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

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    While focusing primarily on Whitman and Dickinson, Salska also provides useful commentary on Dickinson’s relation to Emerson. The book concentrates on the contrast between Whitman’s expansive self, which seeks to merge with the external world, and Dickinson’s powerful but isolated self.

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  • Sánchez-Eppler, Karen. Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    A well-researched and articulate examination of politics expressed in the writings of Jacobs, Whitman, and Dickinson. In her chapter “At Home in the Body: The Internal Politics of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” Sánchez-Eppler explores Dickinson’s positioning of liberty in an unstable boundary between the fleshless freedom of intellectual or artistic truth and the reality of the fleshly body grounded in sexual identity and cultural bondage.

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The Civil War

There has been only one book-length study of Dickinson’s writing about the Civil War: Wolosky 1984. However, scholarly interest in the Civil War has increased rapidly in the early 21st century and even receives a section of its own in Bergland 2008. All the work since Wolosky affirms the centrality of that book, defining it as a seminal text. Barrett 2007 affirms this with “Public Selves and Private Spheres,” an important essay assessing research on Dickinson and the Civil War. Friedlander 1998 looks at poems about slavery and abolition; Miller 2002 shows Dickinson’s Republican allegiances; Barrett 2008 demonstrates Dickinson’s variable engagements with wartime ideologies; Bergland 2008 tracks Dickinson’s efforts to establish perspective on the war; Richards 2008 investigates the false sense of shared experience that Dickinson describes in poems about mass communication and the distant observer of war; and Shoptaw 2010 presents Dickinson’s changing understanding of herself as a poet writing during a period of national conflict.

  • Barrett, Faith. “Public Selves and Private Spheres: Studies of Emily Dickinson and the Civil War, 1984–2007.” Emily Dickinson Journal 16.1 (2007): 92–104.

    DOI: 10.1353/edj.2007.0000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A solid, clearly written assessment of scholarship examining Dickinson and the Civil War. Offers the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. Available online by subscription.

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  • Barrett, Faith. “‘Drums off the Phantom Battlements’: Dickinson’s War Poems in Discursive Context.” In Companion to Emily Dickinson. Edited by Martha Nell Smith and Mary Loeffelholz, 107–132. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405122801.2008.00008.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Barrett examines Dickinson’s shifting attitudes toward the war, arguing that she wrote poems that supported conventional ideology as well as poems that challenged that ideology. An illuminating discussion of the way the war entered Dickinson family life and how the war placed a dollar value on human life.

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  • Bergland, Renée. “The Eagle’s Eye: Dickinson’s View of Battle.” In Companion to Emily Dickinson. Edited by Martha Nell Smith and Mary Loeffelholz, 133–156. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405122801.2008.00009.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An informative analysis of Dickinson’s use of aerial perspective as a means of presenting battlefield vistas. Doing so enables Dickinson to clarify “[t]he fraught relation between the social body and the particular human body” (p. 136) that is exaggerated during war but that is an ever-present source of tension in democratic cultures.

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  • Friedlander, Benjamin. “Auctions of the Mind: Emily Dickinson and Abolition.” Arizona Quarterly 54.1 (1998): 1–26.

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    A perceptive analysis of Dickinson’s attitude toward race and the war, based on a carefully contextualized reading of “Publication—is the Auction.” Friedlander presents Dickinson as challenging the binary opposition of slavery and abolition while expressing antagonism for both positions.

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  • Miller, Cristanne. “Pondering ‘Liberty’: Emily Dickinson and the Civil War.” In American Vistas and Beyond: A Festschrift for Roland Hagenbüchle. Edited by Marietta Messmer and Josef Raab, 45–64. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2002.

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    An extremely informative examination of the way Dickinson’s use of the word “liberty” reflects its meaning as it functions in wartime Republican publications, most notably, the Atlantic Monthly. Miller views Dickinson as “consistent with or directly supportive of Union rhetoric” (pp. 51–52).

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  • Richards, Eliza. “‘How News Must Feel When Traveling’: Dickinson and Civil War Media.” In Companion to Emily Dickinson. Edited by Martha Nell Smith and Mary Loeffelholz, 157–179. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405122801.2008.00010.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Richards examines the influence of wartime mass media on Dickinson’s poems about the war. Advances in communications that made possible the rapid transmission of information about the war also “foregrounded the gap among vicarious and direct experiences of the conflict” (p. 157). Dickinson is aware of this gap and warns against the mistaken tendency of distant observers to assume that they can know what soldiers actually experience.

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  • Shoptaw, John. “Dickinson’s Civil War Poetics: From the Enrollment Act to the Lincoln Assassination.” Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 1–19.

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    Shoptaw explores Dickinson’s oblique relation to the war in terms of her changing understanding of her role as a poet writing during a period of national conflict. Initially, Dickinson saw herself as competing with soldiers on the battlefield through poems asserting that her own interior battles were more important, but this view changes as she comes to identify with and admire the soldiers, ultimately writing poems that commemorate their efforts. Available online by subscription.

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  • Wolosky, Shira. Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.

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    The only book-length study of Dickinson’s relation to the Civil War. This hugely influential and groundbreaking work was the first to argue that the Civil War informed Dickinson’s writing. Wolosky examines Dickinson’s relation to Christian war rhetoric and positions her writing in the context of wartime works by Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman.

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Science and Material Culture

Works appearing under this section demonstrate Dickinson’s thinking about science, her reliance on domestic servants, her attitude toward clothing and fashion, and her love of gardening. Baym 2002 and Peel 2010 examine the influence of science in many of the poems and letters. Farr 2004 looks at the influence of botany, and Morris, et al. 2006 studies the herbarium Dickinson compiled as a girl. Murray 2009 explains the way domestic help influenced Dickinson’s writing, and Wardrop 2009 shows how clothing informs Dickinson’s poetry.

  • Baym, Nina. “Emily Dickinson and Scientific Skepticism.” In American Women of Letters and the Nineteenth-Century Sciences: Styles of Affiliation. By Nina Baym, 133–151. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

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    In her chapter on Dickinson, Baym identifies “more than 270 poems containing scientific language” (pp. 133–134). Baym argues that Dickinson used the discoveries of science to counter the claim of natural theology that a vital principle of life somehow survives after death.

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  • Farr, Judith. The Gardens of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2004.

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    Written for the general reader, this text explains the central role of gardening in Dickinson’s life and work. The author does an impressive job of explaining how knowledge of botany enhances appreciation of central Dickinson poems.

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  • Morris, Leslie A., Judith Farr, and Richard B. Sewall, eds. Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

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    In addition to being an elegant facsimile edition of the herbarium Dickinson assembled as a girl, the volume contains literary-critical essays by Judith Farr and Richard B. Sewall plus an essay by Leslie A. Morris that tracks the history of Dickinson’s herbarium and an essay by Ray Angelo that describes the herbarium from a scientific point of view.

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  • Murray, Aífe. Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language. Revisiting New England: The New Regionalism. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

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    Looks most closely at the role the Irish immigrant Margaret Maher played in shaping Dickinson’s writing. Murray links poetic productivity to the release from labor made possible by domestic help and studies the intimate relationship Dickinson shared with Maher, which included storing fascicles in her trunk.

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  • Peel, Robin. Emily Dickinson and the Hill of Science. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010.

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    An examination of Dickinson’s incorporation of multiple scientific disciplines, including geology, botany, physics, psychology, and evolution. Peel argues that although Dickinson remains characteristically skeptical about the claims of science, it is nonetheless central to Dickinson’s life and work, providing “a lexicon, source of metaphor, and set of analogies” (p. 382).

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  • Wardrop, Daneen. Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing. Becoming Modern: Reading Dress. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

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    An engaging and carefully researched study of the fabrics and clothing fashions that informed Dickinson’s material and poetic worlds. Wardrop is especially illuminating when explaining how certain fabrics reflect Dickinson’s polyvocality and identification with different social classes.

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Transatlantic Culture

Studies examining Dickinson participation in transatlantic culture are relatively recent, though discussions of Dickinson’s relation to particular British writers, such as Shakespeare, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Brontës, have been a part of Dickinson criticism from the beginning. The works that appear here particularly emphasize sketching the ways transatlantic literary and intellectual currents informed Dickinson’s writing. Farr 1992 expresses fluently the influence of landscape painters and the work of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Charlotte Brontë. Finnerty 2006 provides the most complete account of Dickinson’s engagement with Shakespeare. Deppman 2008 discusses engagingly the influence of German idealism and Dickinson’s reading of works by George Eliot, Barrett Browning, and the Brontës. Moon 2008 concentrates on the attitude toward fame and publication that Dickinson shared with Emily Brontë. Morgan 2010 presents a long-awaited analysis of the influence of hymn culture on Dickinson’s poems. See also Women Writers and Literary History.

  • Deppman, Jed. Trying to Think with Emily Dickinson. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008.

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    An important study that places Dickinson’s work in the context of intellectual and literary currents that framed her moment in history while demonstrating that her responses give her a special relevance in the early 21st century. Deppman examines important 19th-century cultural influences, such as German idealism, brain science, and the dictionary debates that included Noah Webster. Deppman also discusses Dickinson’s engagement with influential women writers from both sides of the Atlantic.

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  • Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    This highly readable book studies Dickinson’s writing in the context of literature and art of the period. Farr does an especially good job of presenting the influence of the painter Thomas Cole and the work of Tennyson and Charlotte Brontë. Farr views Dickinson’s reclusive life as dedication to literary art informed by spiritual devotion.

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  • Finnerty, Páraic. Emily Dickinson’s Shakespeare. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.

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    An impressive, extensively researched study that looks at the many contradictory roles Shakespeare played in Dickinson’s culture, all the references to Shakespeare that appear in Dickinson’s writing, and the distinct relationship Dickinson maintained with the playwright and his work. Finnerty “reconstructs the social and cultural milieu in which Dickinson read Shakespeare in order to clarify her actual references to reading him and so as to speculate further on her attitude toward her preferred author” (p. 3).

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  • Moon, Michael. “No Coward Souls: Poetic Engagements between Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson.” In The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange. Edited by Meredith L. McGill, 231–249. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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    Giving particular attention to Brontë’s poem “No coward soul is mine,” Moon examines Dickinson’s wish to have the poem read at her funeral. He argues that although Dickinson valued Brontë’s assertion of spiritual independence, the appeal of the poem is its commentary on fame and the importance of writing primarily for one’s self.

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  • Morgan, Victoria N. Emily Dickinson and Hymn Culture: Tradition and Experience. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

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    A very readable examination of Dickinson as a writer of alternative hymns. Morgan traces Dickinson’s debt to Watts and positions her in the context of women hymn writers, such as Phoebe Hinsdale Brown and Eliza Lee Follen.

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Feminist Studies

Several of the works listed here could also have appeared in the sections Manuscript Scholarship, Women Writers and Literary History, or Psychological Studies; they appear in this section because their primary focus is on the feminist dimension of Dickinson’s writing. Mossberg 1982 uses psychoanalysis and feminist theory to explain Dickinson’s struggles as a daughter and woman writer. Juhasz 1983a and Juhasz 1983b are very much a part of the first wave of feminist interest in Dickinson; both have been enormously influential. Pollak 1984 presents an important analysis of Dickinson’s efforts to establish a sexual identity. McNeil 1986 is an excellent analysis of Dickinson’s work in light of deconstruction and feminist theory. Bennett 1990 presents Dickinson as breaking with masculinist poetics. Howe 1993 positions Dickinson in a tradition of unruly American women writers.

  • Bennett, Paula. Emily Dickinson: Woman Poet. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990.

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    In this first book-length study to present homoeroticism as a central feature of Dickinson’s poetry, Bennett shows Dickinson to be an ambitious writer who breaks with the tradition of masculinist poetics. Bennett also discusses Dickinson in relation to American and British women writers and the importance of her holograph manuscripts.

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  • Howe, Susan. The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1993.

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    Howe positions Dickinson in a tradition of antinomian American writers that the author traces back to Anne Hutchinson. Howe’s poetic treatment of Dickinson is also important for its assertion that Dickinson’s holograph manuscripts are significant as artistic works that must be considered in terms of their visual as well as verbal meanings.

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  • Juhasz, Suzanne. The Undiscovered Continent: Emily Dickinson and the Space of the Mind. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983a.

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    This wonderfully accessible and informative study incorporates feminist and psychoanalytic insights to demonstrate that Dickinson achieved spiritual liberation by charting the landscape of the mind.

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  • Juhasz, Suzanne, ed. Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983b.

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    This is the first book-length collection of feminist scholarship on Dickinson. The nine essays pay particular attention to the ways Dickinson asserted control over her life and work.

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  • McNeil, Helen. Emily Dickinson. Virago Pantheon Pioneers. New York: Pantheon, 1986.

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    McNeil’s feminist and deconstructionist analysis finds Dickinson’s intense privacy and her refusal to print her poems to be a reflection of her dedication to literary art that defied the editorial norms of her day. Dickinson dared to ask forbidden questions and consequently discovered new forms of linguistic expression. McNeil asserts that Dickinson should be considered alongside Whitman as one of the most important innovators in American poetry.

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  • Mossberg, Barbara Antonina Clarke. Emily Dickinson: When the Writer Is a Daughter. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

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    Mossberg uses psychoanalysis and feminist theory to explain Dickinson’s radical departure from the religion of her parents. Her discussion of Dickinson’s relationship with her father argues that Dickinson appeared outwardly dutiful while rebelling in the privacy of her room.

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  • Pollak, Vivian R. Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984.

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    This central feminist analysis contends that Dickinson’s poetry reflects “a quest for sexual identity” that is “terminally thwarted” (p. 9). Chapters examine Dickinson’s life and major poems and letters.

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Genre Studies

These books all present readings of Dickinson’s poetry that are informed by an understanding of a specific literary genre. Three of the four works are concerned with lyric, the genre most frequently associated with Dickinson’s poetry. The fourth study considers Dickinson’s use of the gothic genre. Cameron 1979 sees the lyric as a tool Dickinson uses to free experience from time. Dickie 1991 views Dickinson as breaking with lyric tradition and presenting discontinuous or incommensurate speakers. Jackson 2005 makes the case that many of Dickinson’s poems are not lyrics and that it is wrong to read them as if they were. Wardrop 1996 provides a highly readable analysis of gothic influences in Dickinson’s poems and letters.

  • Cameron, Sharon. Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

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    This important study argues that Dickinson exaggerates lyric form to break free from temporality. Cameron deals with poems of definition, rage, death, mourning, and time. The writing is insightful but highly specialized and designed for scholars.

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  • Dickie, Margaret. Lyric Contingencies: Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

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    An important and easily understood analysis of Dickinson’s break with lyric tradition, exemplified by Emerson and Whitman, which understood lyric poems as celebrations of individualism that are both unique and representative. Dickie examines the way Dickinson gives emphasis to discontinuity rather than unity and in doing so undermines the genre.

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  • Jackson, Virginia. Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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    This award-winning study suggests that many of Dickinson’s poems have been incorrectly defined as lyrics through the imposition of conventional editorial norms and the reading practices promoted by formalist critics. Jackson’s language is specialized and best suited to scholars. Much of her discussion also fits under the category of Manuscript Scholarship.

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  • Wardrop, Daneen. Emily Dickinson’s Gothic: Goblin with a Gauge. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996.

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    The best and most complete study of the gothic presence in Dickinson’s poems. Wardrop argues that Dickinson should be considered a poet of the gothic whose strategic use of hesitation increases suspense to reveal the overdetermined character of conventional belief systems. Chapters on haunting and wedding poems are especially revealing.

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Manuscript Scholarship

These works all deal directly with Dickinson’s holograph manuscripts. That Dickinson did not authorize any print publication of her poems and letters has led to debates over the weight that should be given to her manuscript record as the authoritative foundation for scholarly study. Most manuscript scholarship considers the holographs as the preferred starting point, but not all scholars who have studied the manuscripts agree that they should be viewed as the primary authoritative format for the poems and letters. Howe 1985 was among the first works to discern the artistic value of the manuscripts made public through the 1981 Franklin publication of the Manuscript Books (Dickinson 1981, cited under Scholarly Print Editions). Smith 1992 and Cameron 1992 are among the earliest studies to advocate serious considerations of manuscript letters, poems, and fascicles as the foundation for Dickinson criticism. This is a position Howe further elaborates in Howe 1993. Oberhaus 1995 finds a narrative coherence in the fascicles that culminates in Fascicle 40. Heginbotham 2003 challenges the view that the fascicles offer a coherent narrative but proposes that the arrangement of the poems is meaningful; Mitchell 2005 questions the notion that autograph versions of poems and letters are authoritative, arguing instead that rhyme and meter determine form, which is accurately represented in print editions. Bushell 2009 views the manuscripts as invaluable sources of information about Dickinson’s writing process.

  • Bushell, Sally. Text as Process: Creative Composition in Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.

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    Looks at drafts for poems not as steps leading to a finished product but as works worthy of study in themselves. Bushell is interested in poetic process and takes into account visual as well as semantic features of the manuscripts.

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  • Cameron, Sharon. Choosing Not Choosing: Dickinson’s Fascicles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    A groundbreaking analysis that rejects scholarly efforts to establish “a single discernible principle of order” (p. 16). Cameron contends that Dickinson challenged the concept of lyric identity by making the individual fascicle context the basis for interpretation. Doing so greatly expands the choices that inform interpretation, such that any particular choice is countered by the imperative not to choose.

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  • Heginbotham, Eleanor Elson. Reading the Fascicles of Emily Dickinson: Dwelling in Possibilities. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003.

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    One of the few book-length studies of the fascicles that does not seek to establish overall coherence or authorial intent. Heginbotham allows “Dickinson’s own groupings” (p. viii) of the poems to guide her analysis of sequence; visual relationships; and repetition of key poems, images, and themes in the forty manuscript books.

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  • Howe, Susan. My Emily Dickinson. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1985.

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    Tremendously influential expressionistic meditation on Dickinson’s works that is among the earliest to advocate readings of the holograph manuscripts, which take into account fascicle placement, variants, and visual as well as textual elements.

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  • Howe, Susan. The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1993.

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    Howe positions Dickinson within the context of an ongoing antinomian struggle that has pitted unruly feminist poetics against the normalizing imperatives of mainstream editorial practice. This book is based on Dickinson’s holograph manuscripts and treats all features as significant components of her art.

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  • Mitchell, Domhnall. Measures of Possibility: Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005.

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    Presents Dickinson as a poet deeply dedicated to the conventions of rhyme and meter that informed the writing practices of her contemporaries. Mitchell’s aim is to affirm the centrality of sound features in Dickinson’s poetry and to counter arguments that Dickinson’s line breaks constitute innovative departures from normative metrical practices.

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  • Oberhaus, Dorothy Huff. Emily Dickinson’s Fascicles: Method and Meaning. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

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    Oberhaus situates the fascicles within “the Christian meditative tradition,” arguing that Fascicle 40 presents “a simple conversion narrative” (p. 14) that brings coherence to the rest of the fascicles.

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  • Smith, Martha Nell. Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

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    A groundbreaking study that urges consideration of Dickinson’s holographic manuscripts as an alternative to print publication and presents Susan Gilbert Dickinson as Emily’s primary audience. This is a seminal work for anyone interested in manuscript scholarship.

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Punctuation, Grammar, Poetics, and Style

Works in this section examine what might be considered signature, or distinctive, features of Dickinson’s style that distinguish her from other writers. Lindberg-Seyersted 1968 is one of the earliest studies to explore syntax and grammar as a source for Dickinson’s unique poetic voice. Wylder 1971 asserts that one of Dickinson’s textbooks is the source for her use of the dash. Lindberg-Seyersted 1976 looks closely at Dickinson’s textbooks and challenges Wylder’s conclusions about the dash. Miller 1987 provides a comprehensive analysis of Dickinson’s grammar. Small 2010 is the only book-length study of Dickinson’s rhyme. Crumbley 1997 links Dickinson’s dashes to polyvocality.

  • Crumbley, Paul. Inflections of the Pen: Dash and Voice in Emily Dickinson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

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    An extensive analysis of Dickinson’s dash that interprets the dash as an important influence on tone and inflection in poems and letters. This is the first book-length study to incorporate the dialogic theory of Mikhail M. Bakhtin in the analysis of Dickinson’s writing.

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  • Lindberg-Seyersted, Brita. The Voice of the Poet: Aspects of Style in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson. Studia Anglistica Upsaliens. Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksells, 1968.

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    An influential early analysis of Dickinson’s style that looks at early education, vocabulary, rhetorical patterns, syntax, punctuation, and prosody. Lindberg-Seyersted discusses individual poems in detail, using language that is easy to understand.

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  • Lindberg-Seyersted, Brita. Emily Dickinson’s Punctuation. Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo, 1976.

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    This pamphlet is an important source of information about Dickinson’s early education and the influence of textbooks on the development of her style.

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  • Miller, Cristanne. Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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    An excellent guide to primary features of Dickinson’s writing. Miller touches on distinctive stylistic characteristics, such as the dashes, but also examines Dickinson’s range of subject matter and the way she engages readers. This is one of the most frequently cited sources of Dickinson criticism.

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  • Small, Judy Jo. Positive as Sound: Emily Dickinson’s Rhyme. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

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    This is the most complete study of Dickinson’s rhyme and an essential resource for anyone interested in Dickinson prosody.

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  • Wylder, Edith. The Last Face: Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.

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    One of the earliest scholarly studies of the manuscripts. Wylder pays particular attention to variations in Dickinson’s dashes, linking them to elocutionary marks that appear in Ebenezer Porter’s Rhetorical Reader, a textbook Dickinson studied while attending Amherst Academy.

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Psychological Studies

The books that appear in this section could in some instances also qualify as biographies. Inclusion under this heading is based on the degree to which psychology, or the organization of the poet’s mind, is central to the discussion of Dickinson’s life and work. Gelpi 1965 explains the growth of Dickinson’s imagination. Cody 1971 interprets the poems as expressions of psychological distress. Garbowsky 1989 sees the poems and life as evidence of agoraphobia. Smith 1996 proposes that psychoanalysis be used to explain the way critics respond to Dickinson. See also Biographies and Feminist Studies.

  • Cody, John. After Great Pain: The Inner Life of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

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    A controversial psychobiography that treats the poems as records of psychological trauma. Cody views Dickinson as psychologically disabled as a consequence of not having experienced an intimate relationship with her mother during childhood.

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  • Garbowsky, Maryanne M. The House without the Door: A Study of Emily Dickinson and the Illness of Agoraphobia. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.

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    A carefully reasoned study that treats details of Dickinson’s life, particularly her pronounced withdrawal into private life, as evidence of agoraphobia. Garbowsky argues that Dickinson transformed her disability into a source of artistic power that is visible in her sequencing of fascicle poems.

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  • Gelpi, Albert J. Emily Dickinson: The Mind of the Poet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

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    Gelpi traces the development of Dickinson’s mind as it moves outward in ever-widening circle to embrace the external world. Attention centers on the development of Dickinson’s imagination, especially as revealed in letters.

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  • Smith, Robert McClure. The Seductions of Emily Dickinson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1996.

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    A fascinating and engaging discussion of the ways seduction figures in Dickinson’s poetry and the manner in which her poetry is approached by critics. Smith is most penetrating in his analysis of seduction as a component of postmodern theory that informs the way critics make sense of Dickinson. He makes the provocative suggestion that Dickinson can teach us more about the workings of psychoanalysis than psychoanalysis can tell us about her.

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Early-21st-Century Journal Articles

This category contains essays published in periodicals that cover a range of subjects and are noteworthy because they represent new directions in scholarship or emerging fields of study. Sanborn 2001 significantly advances thinking about the political content of Dickinson’s writing by exploring the political implications of private experience. Wolosky 2003 presents Dickinson as embodying the 19th-century tendency to understand poetry in the context of social and political discourse. Loeffelholz 2005 draws attention to Dickinson’s sensitivity to the scene of writing as informed by and not distinct from print publication. Runzo 2005 views Dickinson’s incorporation of exotic objects as influenced by the exhibitions found in museums and circuses that were an important part of 19th-century popular culture. Gerhardt 2006 illuminates Dickinson’s affiliation with early environmentalism. Giles 2011 is among the first to define Dickinson as a transnational writer whose subjectivity reflects her global awareness.

  • Gerhardt, Christine. “‘Often seen—but seldom felt’: Emily Dickinson’s Reluctant Ecology of Place.” Emily Dickinson Journal 15.1 (2006): 56–78.

    DOI: 10.1353/edj.2006.0020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay presents Dickinson as a protoenvironmentalist. Gerhardt explains Dickinson’s position in the context of environmental writers of her day who participated in a cultural paradigm shift in the 1840s and 1850s, whereby Americans began to view nature as valuable in itself and not a resource appreciated for economic, recreational, or poetic benefits. Available online by subscription.

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  • Giles, Paul. “‘The Earth reversed her Hemispheres’: Dickinson’s Global Antipodality.” Emily Dickinson Journal 20.1 (2011): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1353/edj.2011.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This important essay presents Dickinson in a transnational, global context for which she is particularly well suited by virtue of her tendency to incorporate dramatic shifts in perspective that dislocate and unsettle subjectivity. Giles draws on the term “antipodality,” as used by McKenzie Wark to describe “the feeling of being neither here nor there,” (p. 3) and combines that concept with theories of deep time and the vastness of space current in Dickinson’s New England. Available online by subscription.

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  • Loeffelholz, Mary. “Dickinson’s ‘Decoration.’” ELH: English Literary History 72.3 (2005): 663–689.

    DOI: 10.1353/elh.2005.0026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on Dickinson’s poetic response to Higginson’s poem “Decoration,” Loeffelholz demonstrates how Dickinson’s private writing is informed by Higginson’s print publication. Doing so challenges assumptions about the unilateral conditions of Dickinson’s writing and casts new light on discussions about publication that Dickinson carried on with Higginson. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Runzo, Sandra. “Emily Dickinson’s American Museum.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 51.4 (2005): 276–305.

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    Runzo proposes that Dickinson’s writing be understood as a “poetry of exhibition” (p. 278) in which the extraordinary diversity of speakers and objects may be seen as attractions of the sort promoted by P. T. Barnum. As a consequence, the entire body of Dickinson’s work operates as a museum of wonders by means of which Dickinson investigates and transgresses the dividing line that separates the normative from the alien. Available online by subscription.

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  • Sanborn, Geoffrey. “Keeping Her Distance: Cisneros, Dickinson, and the Politics of Private Enjoyment.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association 116.5 (2001): 1334–1348.

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    Concentrating on acts of resistance that he associates with the intransitiveness of Dickinson’s writing, Sanborn describes a socially subversive “heretical space” that recognizes the inadequacy of social structures. He argues that although “Dickinson does not participate in Marxian or postcolonial discourses, she does model a practice that is a precondition of those discourses” (p. 1345). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wolosky, Shira. “The Claims of Rhetoric: Toward a Historical Poetics (1820–1900).” American Literary History 15.1 (2003): 14–21.

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    This important article provides a compelling assessment of the political value of 19th-century poetry. Wolosky argues that the “notion of poetry as a self-enclosed aesthetic realm” is “a late nineteenth-century development.” During the course of the century, “poetry directly participated in and addressed the pressing issues of the nation” (p. 14). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Religion

The books that appear here are the most important monographs exploring the role of religion in Dickinson’s works. Of these, Lundin 2004 and McIntosh 2000 are the most influential. Both works are accessible for newcomers to Dickinson while also being valuable resources for scholars. Doriani 1996 is a more specialized analysis of the way Dickinson fits into a tradition of prophetic writing. Brantley 2004 links Dickinson to the Christian tradition visible in the work of major romantic poets. Freedman 2011 is a welcome addition to these works that further clarifies Dickinson’s roots in Puritan practice and her connections to British writers.

  • Brantley, Richard E. Experience and Faith: The Late-Romantic Imagination of Emily Dickinson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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    A comprehensive analysis of Dickinson’s religious writing in the context of Anglo-American Christian prophetic tradition informed by major romantic poets. Brantley provides useful discussions of Dickinson’s relation to writers such as Blake, Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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  • Doriani, Beth Maclay. Emily Dickinson, Daughter of Prophecy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

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    Doriani argues that Dickinson drew on Christian prophetic tradition to authorize and empower her poetry. Chapters on religious context and Dickinson’s adaptation of homelitic techniques are particularly useful.

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  • Freedman, Linda. Emily Dickinson and the Religious Imagination. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511795022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers Dickinson’s religious imagery in the context of American typology and establishes links to Shakespeare and the British romantics.

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  • Lundin, Roger. Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. 2d ed. Library of Religious Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 2004.

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    A highly readable account of Dickinson’s lifelong struggle with belief that positions her poems and letters within the religious debates of her day. Lundin provides close readings of key poems and letters, linking these to biblical passages and central theological questions.

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  • McIntosh, James. Nimble Believing: Dickinson and the Unknown. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

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    An excellent study of Dickinson’s continuous movement between faith and doubt. McIntosh examines Dickinson’s relation to Calvinist tradition and looks at the way she rewrites primary biblical stories. Dickinson emerges as a poet of spiritual transformation whose experimental faith makes for intense spiritual experience. Good close readings of poems and letters.

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Queer Theory and Sexuality

Books and articles listed in this category look primarily at the way Dickinson communicates expressions of erotic desire that fall outside heterosexual norms. Bennett 1990 presents Dickinson’s imagination and her writing as homoerotic and autoerotic. “Lesbianism,” especially as defined by Smith 1992 and Landry 2000, is a capacious term useful in accounting for Dickinson’s transgressive expressions of female sexuality. Juhasz 2005 reads Dickinson through the broad lens of academic queer theory to argue that her poetic stance in general is shaped by erotic energies that rearrange traditional conceptions of gender and sexuality. Juhasz and Miller 2002 explains the way Dickinson’s lyrics destabilize conventional gender distinctions. The question of sexual orientation inevitably comes up, particularly in Patterson 1951, but determining whether Dickinson was a lesbian is not the primary concern; what most interests these scholars is the way Dickinson’s writing expresses an expansive and unusually fluid experience of sexual identity that reflects her general approach to poetic expression as well as her passionate involvement with the most important people in her life. These issues also surface in other works listed in this bibliography. See also Biographies, Feminist Studies, Psychological Studies, and Women Writers and Literary History.

  • Bennett, Paula. Emily Dickinson: Woman Poet. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990.

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    A highly readable and provocative study of erotic desire that presents homoeroticism as central to Dickinson’s view of the world and all that she writes. In her final chapter, “Of Genre, Gender and Sex,” Bennett concentrates on Dickinson’s use of genital imagery to create an autonomous source of female power.

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  • Juhasz, Suzanne. “Amplitude of Queer Desire in Dickinson’s Erotic Language.” Emily Dickinson Journal 14.2 (2005): 24–33.

    DOI: 10.1353/edj.2006.0011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an extraordinarily well-written and informative application of queer theory to key Dickinson poems. Juhasz examines the link between erotic desire and metaphors of excitement that demonstrate Dickinson’s incorporation of desire in moments of heightened sensitivity associated with personal transformation and insight. Available online by subscription.

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  • Juhasz, Suzanne, and Cristanne Miller. “Performances of Gender in Dickinson’s Poetry.” In The Cambridge Companion to Emily Dickinson. Edited by Wendy Martin, 107–128. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521806445Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Juhasz and Miller use performance theory to argue that “Dickinson both constructs alternatives to a traditional, fixed binary gender system (woman/man) and opens opportunities for the reader to perform alternative genderings” (p. 107). The essay also includes informative commentary on lyric poetry and queer theory.

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  • Landry, H. Jordan. “Animal/Insectual/Lesbian Sex: Dickinson’s Queer Version of the Birds and the Bees.” Emily Dickinson Journal 9.2 (2000): 42–54.

    DOI: 10.1353/edj.2000.0014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A well-researched examination of the way Dickinson reformulates the heterosexual Puritan conversion narrative through the sexual imagery of her bird and bee poems. Landry provides a clear sense of the Puritan tradition as Dickinson knew it and demonstrates her departures from that tradition through close readings of important poems and letters. Available online by subscription.

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  • Patterson, Rebecca. The Riddle of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951.

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    Winner of Houghton Mifflin’s Literary Fellowship, this highly readable book presents Dickinson as a lesbian who concealed her erotic attraction to other women, Kate Scott Anton in particular. This is a highly controversial account of Dickinson’s life that has been criticized for being excessively speculative.

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  • Smith, Martha Nell. Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

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    This is the single most influential book to propose that Dickinson maintained a lesbian relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, and that this relationship was central to her writing. Smith presents Susan as Dickinson’s primary audience and discusses Dickinson’s refusal to stabilize either her sexual desires or her literary productions.

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Women Writers and Literary History

All these works seek to explain Dickinson’s position in literary history. Many of them concentrate primarily on Dickinson’s relation to other American women writers and for this reason might have appeared in the sections American Writers or Feminist Studies. They appear here because they are concerned specifically with Dickinson’s position in a historical tradition of women’s writing. Gilbert and Gubar 2000 situates Dickinson in a transatlantic female literary tradition that includes British novelists. Homans 1980 concentrates on Dickinson’s relation to British women poets. Dobson 1989 identifies techniques and strategies Dickinson shared with 19th-century American women poets. Erkkila 1992 focuses on the differences that separate American women poets and questions the possibility of a tradition. Loeffelholz 1991 and Loeffelholz 2004 first place Dickinson in transcendental and romantic transatlantic traditions and later examine her relations to other 19th-century American women poets. Petrino 1998 establishes practices Dickinson shared with other 19th-century American women poets.

  • Dobson, Joanne. Dickinson and the Strategies of Reticence: The Woman Writer in Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

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    With admirably accessible prose, Dobson situates Dickinson in the context of American women writers of the period. Her discussion of female literary conventions, such as the little-girl voice, is especially helpful.

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  • Erkkila, Betsy. The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History, and Discord. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    Erkkila explores the possibility of establishing a female literary tradition, concluding that the feminist impulse is too dynamic and unsettling to support a single, coherent historical trajectory. Studies Dickinson in the context of 19th- and 20th-century American women poets.

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  • Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

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    A tremendously influential work that presents Dickinson as assuming various literary persona to make her life into a “kind of novel or narrative poem” that enabled her to negotiate anxiety related to her status as a female artist and express “her anger at female subordination” (p. 583).

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  • Homans, Margaret. Women Writers and Poetic Identity: Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Brontë, and Emily Dickinson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

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    Homans uses psychoanalysis and literary theory to explain how Dickinson creates a female poetic identity through nonreferential metaphoric language that enables her to escape containment within patriarchical constructions of female nature.

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  • Loeffelholz, Mary. Dickinson and the Boundaries of Feminist Theory. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

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    Loeffelholz uses psychoanalysis and feminist literary theory to examine Dickinson’s relation to transcendental and romantic traditions. Chapters dealing with Emerson and Barrett Browning are especially illuminating.

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  • Loeffelholz, Mary. From School to Salon: Reading Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    An authoritative and graceful analysis of the changing cultural conditions that informed the poetry of 19th-century American women. Loeffelholz argues convincingly that knowledge of the cultural milieu enables a deeper appreciation for the accomplishments of not only Dickinson, but also her contemporaries, such as Sigourney, Lucretia Davidson, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

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  • Petrino, Elizabeth A. Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries: Women’s Verse in America, 1820–1885. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.

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    A highly readable and essential resource for anyone interested in the way Dickinson engaged with the publication standards of her day and how her work compares with that of other American women poets of the period. Noteworthy chapters on Sigourney, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Helen Hunt Jackson.

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