April 5th, 2011
I thought you guys might like to see the litmajor!Lemur of the day::
I thought you guys might like to see the litmajor!Lemur of the day::
Perhaps one of the more interesting stories about Dickinson concerns her relationship with George Gould, a classmate of Austin Dickinson. Gould was already familiar with the Dickinson family and close to Austin; they were in many of the same classes and the same fraternity together. Gould’s wit and style of writing probably attracted Dickinson’s notice, as she sent him a Valentine in 1850. At that time, Gould became an editor of The Indicator, a student run publication; following his first publicized statement, which was concerned with “the prime object of ‘our own literary achievement’” (419), Gould received masses of Valentines from female readers. They only published one—Dickinson’s, which was signed with a mere, “Yours, Truly, C.” The letter contains such interesting and poetic phrases as, “meet me at sunrise, or sunset, or the new moon—the place is immaterial” (420) and “We will be David and Jonathan, or Damon and Pythias, or what is better than either, the United States of America…I am Judith the heroine of the Apocrypha and you the orator of Ephesus” (420). We know that it is Dickinson from the several references to her dog, Carlo. Despite the overflowing and somewhat flowery language quoted here, the Valentine itself is more of a call to arms—it asks that Gould, (as well Dickinson’s readers and peers, for that matter), despite their unlike minds, should meet and “assault, with her, the ills of the world head on” (421), presumably through intellect and literature.
The Indicator responded, “Now this is, after all, a very ingenious affair. If it is not true, it is at any rate philosophical” (421). Gould’s colleague Henry Shipley commented afterward about it, “I wish I knew who the author is. I think she must have some spell, by which she quickens the imagination, and causes the high blood ‘run frolic through the veins’”(419). Perhaps this was Dickinson’s first poetry review.
Interestingly enough, although there is no evidence of Gould’s response or feelings towards the Valentine, or even if he realized that the words were Emily’s, the affair gave rise to a rather gossipy elaboration—supposedly, Edward Dickinson afterward forbade Emily to further correspond with Gould, who was possibly beginning to show interest in her and vice-versa. Obedient to her father’s demands, Emily asked to meet with Gould and, told him her order and that “love was too vital a flower to be crushed so cruelly” (421). Although this story is highly unlikely—why would Edward Dickinson oppose a match with such an intellectual man who was familiar with the family?—it is nonetheless an entertaining one.
Too often, we prefer to dwell on the anxious, solitary Dickinson, or, as Dr. Scanlon likes to frequently call it, “the darling lunatic,” a figure we hold dear because of her idiosyncrasies. Stories like this help to dispel that image a little. They remind readers that, at least in her youth, Dickinson was not reclusive, and did seek a widespread social attention. At one point in her life she may even (however briefly) have entertained thoughts about marriage and a life in the normal domestic sphere. Furthermore, although the popular image of Emily Dickinson consists of a woman with few but tight friendships, adding Gould’s name to the list of individuals with whom she felt a (possibly romantic?) connection creates an impressive number for the “Myth of Amherst.” However, just as in other relationship forays we’ve read, Dickinson seeks attention and connection through her chief skill—writing.
Another idea that we’ve discussed in class is Dickinson’s horizontal publishing. Her valentine to Gould is a good example of it, perhaps even more so because it was published and read by a fairly wide ranged audience. One could infer that Dickinson was aware of the public potential of the Valentine, particularly since the work was sent to the Indicator and not Gould privately. Furthermore, it was Dickinson’s first published piece. Perhaps she was not only expressing affection for Gould; rather, she was also beginning to test the publishing waters. The letter is also filled with allusions and knowledge of civil unrest in United States (likening Dickinson and Gould’s “unlike minds” to the United States as a whole). It also contains several allusions to Emerson—clearly this is someone displaying her intellect, rather than lamenting her love in a sonnet. Perhaps the fact that this kind of publishing was so public (rather than the private letters she sent) is another testament to her more socially outgoing youth.
Sewall, Richard Benson. The Life of Emily Dickinson,. Vol. 2. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1974. 419-21. Print
During today’s class we were asked to discuss what kinds of things stuck out to us in our recent reading of ED’s letters from 1866-1883. When we got back to large group a lot of us talked about ED’s views on death and immortality, what her letters showed about her domesticity and what she felt and thought about her family and home. But one of the major topics I don’t think our class touched upon was ED’s letters to Judge Otis Lord. Alyssa was in my small group and seemed to be thoroughly annoyed (correct me if I’m wrong!) by these letters. I agree with her sentiments. They were just like the Master letters, in that she sounded way to desperate and whiny. None of us want to picture our bff Emily Dickinson this way! But this connection got me thinking… Why were Emily’s letters to Sue, Otis, and the unknown “Master” so different than all the rest? Why is she taking on this persona we don’t like for only certain letters. This does not seem like something she would do. I was just wondering what other people’s thoughts were about this or just about the Judge Otis letters in general.
Today in class we began our discussion with poem 185, but I felt like it never really concluded–probably because we continued the discussion about its prominent themes into the other two poems (194 and 225). Something that interested me were, of course, the two most prominent images in the poems and trying to determine which is the metaphor for which in each situation. The idea was also tossed around that maybe there’s a switch within the poems, specifically in 185 between stanzas. I guess I want to flesh out what the implications of each metaphor my be and try and give a reading of these poems with that in mind and then this post can serve as a gateway for others to put forth their own readings.
So my first instinct is that death is the metaphor for marriage. If that’s the case then marriage is the cessation of life, in this case, the bride in particular. I don’t think it is necessarily what kills the bride besides the fact that this death obviously has agency since the woman cannot pursue a marriage and force a man to marry her. This would imply that after a woman is married what follows is a lifeless existence and that brides are no more than images of death walking around and speaking when spoken to in the private sphere and not at all in the public sphere. This obviously does not bode well for the marriage in the eyes of Emily Dickinson. Or does it? Let’s look at it the other way. If marriage is the metaphor for death, this may be a good thing. There’s the curious use of the word “Victory” in 185 and 194, but from her dripping sarcasm in 194, I’d have to say we might apply the same to 185–especially since the second half of that poem and it’s creepiness definitely seems more like a bad thing than a good thing. Plus, as we’ve seen from her letters, she clearly is very suspicious of the marriage institution. In regards to it switching mid-poem or between stanzas (at least in regards to 185), I don’t think the text supports it. What I mean is that I think it’s running through both stanzas–the wife in the first stanza, the child in the second; the passing “Unto the East” in the first stanza and “The Angels” bustling in the second.
So my candidate is that death is the metaphor for marriage here. But what I’m wondering is what does that do for her poems that are primarily about death and it doesn’t seem as though marriage enters into it? Does this change your understanding of how Dickinson’s relation to death is something that might be very real to her–a lurking possibility, just around the door? What do you all think?
Choke of the Day: Dropping the Dickinson doll–both times–was hilarious, complete with the readings outside the door and little Emily Dickinson hovering in the crack to “read” her poems to us.
Class MVP: Alyssa for initiating the motion to do something about it whenever someone drops the Dickinson doll and (I think) coming up with our first plan of action against The First Dude. We’re counting on you Snape!
Quote of the Day: [Insert Gary Richards’ Dickinson parody poem here]
The only one I remember in full is:
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
How could I let Virginia Woolf’s129th birthday pass without discussing A Room of One’s Own and Emily Dickinson?
For those of you who have not read A Room of One’s Own, here is a bit of background. Published in 1929, it’s an essay based on lectures that Woolf gave at two women’s colleges in Cambridge. The bulk of the essay is about the problems faced by female authors (although disparities in education, sexuality, and a-hole Oxford dons are addressed as well). When I first read A Room of One’s Own, it was like a revelation. Some of it is dated, but a lot of the problems Woolf points out are not only still very current, but easily translate into all realms of the media.
The essay also relates a lot to Emily Dickinson. The title refers to Woolf’s belief that in order to be a successful writer, a woman needs an independent income and her own space. Learning about Dickinson’s biography made me realize just how lucky she was. Dickinson did not completely conform to Woolf’s guidelines: she did not make her own money and her letters show that even despite her isolation she was constantly surrounded by people. But she was still very fortunate. Her family had enough money that, unlike Sue, she never had to work outside the home. And as we saw in pictures, Dickinson had her own room where she was able to work tirelessly on her poetry and letters. This made her very unique for a nineteenth century woman.
A Room of One’s Own also highlights the importance of the support she received. Below is one of the passages that really struck me the first time I read it:
Let us suppose that a father from the highest motives did not wish his daughter to leave home and become a writer, painter or scholar. “See what Mr. Oscar Browning says,” he would say; and there was not only Mr. Oscar Browning; there was the Saturday Review; there was Mr. Greg—the “essentials of a woman’s being,” said Mr. Greg emphatically, “are that they are supported by, and they minister to, men”—there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told profoundly upon her work. There would have always been that assertion—you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that—to protest against, to overcome.
Think of what Dickinson’s life would have been like if she’d been surrounded by people like Mr. Browning and Mr. Greg. She might not have gone to the Amherst Academy and would not have gone to Mount Holyoke. Had she not sent her letters to an editor as liberal and supportive as Higginson, she might not have continued writing. This isn’t to say that her life was some sort of feminist utopia, but she certainly received the type of support that Woolf found rare for women.
I’d love to hear what you guys think about Dickinson’s support system and writing environment, and especially from some former GynoModders.
Here is a link to an interesting post that shows an example of Dickinson’s surprising use of her family’s books. Their library also contains markings and comments by ED.
Images from a mural on the edge of the Amherst Cemetery:
I think I kind of gave Messmer’s article the shaft without meaning to because we got carried away with other things the day it was assigned. Before we leave it too far behind, I wanted to open a place for people to discuss it. Messmer traces critical reception of Dickinson, from early discrepancy between assessments of her genius and apologies for/dismissals of her irregular forms and poor grammar; to biographical studies and a quest to define her elusive (male) lover; to a New Critical focus on close reading of the lyrics; to feminist, psychoanalytic, and linguistic readings of Dickinson’s themes and use of language; to an interest in the materiality of the manuscripts and the fascicles and in the genres of the Dickinson’s writings. Was there anything that particularly interested or surprised you in this survey of her reception?
While reading the first group of assigned poems, I couldn’t help but notice that Dickinson frequently references specific flowers. Some of these are obvious (like Rose and Daisy); others were a little more obscure. Last year in Gynomod, Sarah Lawless did a great compilation album on Flicker of flowers that HD mentions in HERmione. I found it incredibly helpful, and would like to do something similar for this class (so thank you, Sarah!). Because we’re going to be reading Dickinson for longer than the week and a half we spent on HER, I decided that it might be helpful to start a series on the blog (or at least I hope that it could become a series?) that catalogs and categorizes ED’s floral references. This is its first installment.
So, in a “My Departing Blossoms” post, I think it would be best if the post included the reference to the flower (either part of the poem or letter, or all of it — if it’s not too long), a picture, some information on the flower, and an explanation of how a better understanding of that flower helped your understanding of the poem.
In poem 21, Dickinson writes
“The Gentian weaves her fringes –
The Maple’s loom is red –
My departing blossoms
I’ve been able to figure out (mainly from Wikipedia and the Gentian Research Network) that a Gentian is not a specific flower, but a genus of flowers, called Gentiana. There are many different kinds of Gentians within this genus but they are always trumpet-shaped flowers, and most of them, especially the ones in North America, are dark blue. These flowers can come in other colors like pink, yellow and red (but, Dickinson, based on her location, was probably most accustomed to seeing Gentians that were blue). Because of their trumpet shape, these flowers are pollinated by butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as bees and bats. The flowers in this family can be either annuals or perennials. Quite appropriate to Dickinson’s native Massachusetts, these plants are considered very “hardy” – like the inhabitants of the region – and are known for growing in mountainous areas like the Alps and the Balkans or even deserts. In fact, they are often grown in rock gardens.
In this poem, Dickinson seems to be referring to a flower with “fringes” and, as luck would have it – or, more likely, since Dickinson knows what she’s talking about – there is a Fringed Gentian:
To help give you a sense of the range of this genus of flower, here are a few more images. Keep in mind, all of these are different species of flowers, but all could function as the “Gentian” in another poem.
When I read the poem the first time, I’d never heard of a Gentian before. Dickinson’s use of “her” let me assume, for all of 30 seconds, that a “Gentian” was a person. Not for long. My little bit of research colors my reading of the poem. Instead of “pretty flower waves fringes,” I can now have a much more specific mental image. ED’s Gentian is most likely weaving her blue fringes into the red loom of the Maple. I wonder if Dickinson purposefully leaves the color of the Gentian blank, if she is assuming that her reader (or letter-receiver) knows that Gentian’s or blue. Further, why does she call the Maple’s loom “red”? Is this to maintain a slant-rhyme with “parade” or to call attention to the blank color of the Gentian? Does it matter at all if the Gentian is supposed to be blue?
Because I was so quickly proven wrong (thank you, internet), I read this poem as ED writing about one of the reasons why she was consistently wondering about how Heaven could be that much more beautiful and wonderful than earth: “if God had been here this summer, and seen the things that I have seen – I guess that He would think His Paradise superfluous” (#185, Selected Letters 136). This could be her record of a gorgeous moment she wanted to remember. So there you have it: the Gentian.
Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, editors of Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Gilbert Dickinson, say, “Nearly all of Susan’s letters to Emily were destroyed at the time of the poet’s death. This would have been the result of a routine ‘house-cleaning,’ reflecting the common practice in the nineteenth century to either destroy or return to the senders all letters received by the deceased” (xiii). They also maintain that “Emily and Susan’s relationship surpasses in depth, passion, and continuity the stereotype of the ‘intimate exchange’ between women friends of the period” (xiv).
Also, the poem “One Sister have I” was sent to Sue in a letter in late 1858. Dickinson later transcribed the poem, with some variants, and sewed it into fascicle two. Martha Dickinson Bianchi (Sue’s daughter) published it in 1914 from the copy she had in her mother’s papers (the fact that Sue received a bulk of Emily’s poems over the years in letters accounts for some of the division of work between the rival editors), and it is believed that Mabel Loomis Todd or Austin Dickinson scribbled out the facsimile version, meaning that Vinnie must have given them the poem with the other fascicles after Emily’s death.