Global Dickinson

Emily DickinsonDr Páraic Finnerty, Reader in English and American Literature, has recently published an essay on Dickinson’s global imagery in New Emily Dickinson Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). See below for the background and click here for a link to the publication.

The great nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) has been the subject of two recent films, A Quiet Passion (2016) and Wild Nights with Emily (2018), and will be the focus of a new comedy series, Dickinson, on Apple TV+. Dickinson is also one of literature’s most famous recluses. In the 1860s, Dickinson began to retreat from the world outside her Amherst home. By 1869, she told her friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson, ‘I do not cross my Father’s ground to any House or town’. For the last two decades of her life, she refused to see anyone outside her household except close family members or friends. She communicated with others only through letters. She was a figure of great curiosity in her home town and beyond and became known as the ‘Myth of Amherst’. Her letters and poems were treasured by those lucky enough to receive them. However, she did not actively seek to publish any of the almost 1,800 poems she composed, even though she was encouraged to do so, particularly in the late 1870s and 1880s, by publishers and literary figures. Although many theories exist about her reclusiveness and her refusal to publish, my ongoing research examines her participation in key literary and cultural debates of her day, and especially her engagement with her British literary heritage and travel literature.

My Global Dickinson essay considers how and why she draws on global imagery and the travel motif in her writings. It catalogues her use of imagery from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America to move intellectually and imaginatively beyond the United States. She carefully chooses geographical referents to connect the local and the global and to allow her readers to travel virtually from one geographical location to another. If you interested in these ideas I have published a similarly themed essay on Dickinson’s virtual conceptions of Europe here.

Coming to the English Literature blog next week: a super post from Dr Páraic Finnerty about his new essay on Emily Dickinson’s use of global imagery and travel motifs.

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