Sarah’s Much Expected CC Assignment C

The 1st South Carolina

Not a single battle of the Civil War was fought in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson’s home state. Despite this, her connection with the war was apparent. We know that she was an avid reader of everything that came to the house, and it stands to reason that she kept up to date on the progression of the war. One of her strongest ties to it most likely existed in the person of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Their relationship began with the publication of “Letter to a Young Contributor,” and article by Higginson published in the Atlantic Monthly, in which he encourages budding writers. Dickinson would write him in response to this, and through their exchange of letters, he would become her foremost literary mentor. This catalytic article was published months before Higginson left Massachusetts to take command of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, a Union regiment made up entirely of escaped black slaves—the first official black regiment in US history. They corresponded even as Higginson was going off to this new command.

The 1st South Carolina appears to have faded from history, despite the publication of Higginson’s book, Army Life in a Black Regiment, about his experiences with the regiment. Heaps of fame and interest are loaded instead upon the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the second official black regiment and the subject of the movie Glory. Most likely this is because the 54th Massachusetts saw significantly more action than the 1st South Carolina, which saw plenty of combat, but no big-name battles (but still). Though the war in general certainly affected her life and poetry, it was likely Higginson’s experiences in the war (along with the deaths of several neighbors and a family member) that affected her the most.

In his book, which was published in Dickinson’s lifetime (and I would not be surprised to know that she owned), Higginson shares his diaries, letters, and recollections from the start of training camp in 1862 until he left for health reasons in 1864. One of the reasons this memoir is valued is because in recording the so-called “negro spirituals,” he preserved an art form that we have little record of today. He continually refers to these songs and their singers as “poetry” and “poets,” and there are, in fact, a few parallels between these folk songs and some of Dickinson’s poetry. The biggest similarity is in their focus on the natural in setting and object. Mixed with a heavy dose of biblical allusions, Dickinson may have identified with these folk songs more than the more familiar “cathedral tunes” of her childhood, referenced in “There’s a certain Slant of light.” This natural or nature-imbued faith, as shown in “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church—” was much more typical for Dickinson. I am, of course, merely drawing a connection between her poems and a possible influence on them; I have not found solid evidence that Dickinson herself felt this way.

She may also have been influenced by some of the descriptions of battle or troop life that Higginson included in his book. In an article by Leigh-Anne Urbanowicz Marcellin, she highlights several of Dickinson’s poems that seem directly influenced by war and the plight of the soldier—some even from the soldiers’ point of view. Some of these poems are “Our journey had advanced,” “My Portion is Defeat—today,” “They dropped like Flakes,” and “It dont sound so terrible—quite—as it did—.” The last poem is even written in a simplified grammar and syntax, emulating a poorly-educated soldier. Higginson preserves a similar dialect in his book—another link between the two.

The short article by Marcellin, which gives useful context to the subject and some explicatory passages, would have fit in nicely into our curriculum. We didn’t get the chance to study much of Dickinson’s war poetry, an unfortunate occurrence, considering the wealth of literature on the topic, and the parallels to H. D.’s own war experiences. Though it is harder to identify her war-influenced work because she rarely gives direct context (wouldn’t you love a note that says “this poem is about Antietam”?), the scholarship on the subject and the dates around which the Johnson edition is organized would have been enough to uncover a few exemplary examples of her war poetry. Women’s war poetry is just now becoming a popular field of study, as Marcellin points out, and the question of its influence is thus a current one, and worth more than a cursory glance.

Marcellin, Leigh-Anne Urbanowicz. “Emily Dickinson’s Civil War Poetry.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 5.2 (1996): 107-112. Project MUSE. Web.
Wikipedia pages on Higginson, Dickinson, and the 1st South Carolina Volunteers for basic         information.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment. Publisher unknown, 1869. Web. (and no I didn’t read the whole thing!)

Sarah’s Highly Anticipated CC Assignment B

Animals and Anthropmorphism

Unfortunately, we never got the chance to discuss Dickinson’s animal poems, though, as Aaron Shackelford points out in his article “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism,” there certainly are a lot of them. He does an excellent job of summarizing the scholarship on these animal poems and the literary and scientific debates surrounding the use of anthropomorphism in general. In the end, he shows how Dickinson played both sides of the humanizing animals debate to make effective statements about both animal and human nature.

Shackelford starts by addressing modern conceptions of anthropomorphism as childish or immature, and traces this idea back to Dickinson’s own library, citing one of her textbooks from Mount Holyoke and an article in the Atlantic Monthly, the same issue in which Higginson’s “Letter to a Young Contributor” was published. Originally, as is shown in the science textbook, anthropomorphism was considered essential to understanding the natural world, the idea being that without a human lens and human-based metaphors, we couldn’t understand animals as the complex beings they are. William Smellie, the author of the textbook, condemns detatched methods of approaching natural life, as in the casting of animals as bits of complex machinery.

This approach remained popular through Darwin’s researches and other famous scientific studies, but started to be challenged seriously around Dickinson’s time period. The Atlantic Monthly article, written by Louis Agassiz, highlights a very removed approach to natural study. His theory is that human bias prevents us from really understanding animals fully, as all of the study is on our terms and not theirs. Both the article and the textbook are used primarily because of the high probability that Dickinson would have read them, but they are also good examples of the scholarship out there.

At this point, Shackelford applies both of these theories to Dickinson’s own poems, first using the example of “A Saucer holds a Cup” to show how she incorporates the ideas. In the poem (don’t worry, we haven’t read it), she describes a squirrel eating. Onto this image she applies such human imagery of a king in a dining room, and gives the squirrel cutlery. Although on the surface it seems quaint, Shackelford shows how these metaphors are cleverly disrupted (the dining room is swaying, the cutlery is the squirrel’s own teeth), which in turn highlights the flaws in applying such metaphors in the first place, forcing the reader to consider the choice. In the end, the squirrel, a mere vehicle, fades away and the reader is faced with commentary on human society.

Another poem that Shackelford explicates, “You’ll know Her – by Her Foot -” approaches a bird from the opposite approach. The poem details a minute examination of the bird in question, which, instead of resulting in a complete understanding of the creature, ends in a turning away from the bird at hand to contemplate the false bird in the speaker’s mind. To do this, Dickinson uses the same method of “A Saucer holds a Cup,” familiar human metaphors that are disrupted. The bird’s “hand” is of course not a hand, and its “rubber boots” are buttonless. The bird is described as wearing a cap, but then we are told the cap has no material, no seam, no band, and no brim—in other words, not a hat at all. Finally, the songs of the bird are wasted on the speaker, who turns to the internalized robin, ignoring the reality of the bird.

Overall, it was a fantastically written article, deep in research and mostly sound in explication. The thesis, a bit spread out in the beginning, is wrapped up perfectly in the conclusion, where Shackelford’s arguments are all tied together. We are left with an interesting case study of how Dickinson commented on scientific debate around her, using the strategies of both sides to undermine them and point out the flaws in each by exaggerating anthropomorphism. Finally, Shackelford points out that because of modern views of the triviality and juvenility of anthropomorphism, Dickinson’s many animal-based poems are given a diminished worth, and not studied as much as her Civil War poems or sexuality poems (why we choose the topics we do is such a worthwhile question that this article raises). Though we have a limited time in this class to study Dickinson in depth, it is great to do a bit of research on significant topics that get squeezed out. Her animal poems are a great example of how she, often seen as a recluse, interacted with the world and ideas around her in a clever and skillful way.

Aaron Shackelford. “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 47-66. Project MUSE. Web.

Sarah’s Long-Awaited CC Assignment A

Perdita, or Lack Thereof

It is striking to me how little is written about Perdita. I see her of one of the most interesting people of the many who surrounded H. D. Perhaps I am only romanticizing, but she seems to me a relatively normal child, and later woman, thrust by no fault or request of her own into the most unusual of circumstances. It’s true that she’s not the most interesting of the cast of characters in which she was born—less drama surrounds her than anyone else. Even in the trials that do involve her, such as the spat over her registration and her eventual adoption, have almost nothing to do with her—she might as well have been a piece of furniture or a relic of art.

This strange fading away of such an interesting person is reflected in H. D.’s writing. There is very little written about Frances Perdita Aldington Schaffner by her mother or mother-figures; she seems not to have been a very noteworthy person at all. Even when she is mentioned, it is as an allusion to H. D.’s pressures and troubles surrounding Perdita’s birth. Thus, I consulted Barbara Guest’s biography of H. D., Herself Defined:  The Poet H. D. and Her World, to try to find more information about this “little lost one.”

On page 243 I found a little nugget that explains so much about Perdita—not only about her early life, but also about the kind of atmosphere she was raised in and the attitudes of those around her. Her first few weeks were spent at the nursery where we see her at the end of Asphodel, and then she was moved to another house, separate from H. D. For a time, it seems, she lived with Bryher and H. D., but was sent to a vocational school (cooking, housekeeping), and then a girl’s school, and then shunted between Kenwin and London, as H. D. couldn’t stand to have her around too much. At eighteen, she moved to a flat in London separate from her mother. In fact, for most of her life she lived separate from H. D., which explains her absence from H. D.’s writing—she was absent from her life. According to H. D., “This did not mean…that her love was any the less for Perdita. It was that she suffered from the mere physical presence of another person.” I’m not well-informed enough to judge H. D.’s parenting skills, and I have no children of my own, but I believe that some sort of proximity to one’s child is rather useful in their upbringing, and it appears that H. D. couldn’t physically do that.

In a biography of a person, you would expect attention to be devoted to their family most of all. In Guest’s biography, H. D.’s friends and lovers take precedent, and Perdita, her one blood tie left at the time (her family either dead or in America), is mentioned only in little asides. To get a sense of what the daughter meant to the mother, these little asides must be examined. In 1924, Bryher writes to H. D. to come to Paris, suggesting she bring “the Pudding’ (159). Nursery-age Perdita, apparently round and chubby, is the dish referred to—almost an afterthought, and certainly an object (it is a cute nickname, but the fact remains that it’s indicative of how her two mothers treated her). When Bryher encourages Perdita to go to America, she warns of how these two mothers could smother her. “We would eat you up!’ she told Perdita” (289). (pudding, anyone?) Here we can see that the high drama and demanding personalities of the people surrounding Perdita caused her to truly become a background character, as she is in the biography.

In the US, she married a literary agent, and their home became “one of literary enterprise combined with raising a family of four children” (289). She appears to have come into her own here—it was in the US that she started her lucrative career as a writer—she writes her own works and the prefaces to and criticism of her mother’s works. After H. D., Perdita has become more of a person than during H. D. Two of her sons are published writers, and her daughter is an artist, and Guest says that “H. D. would now see in the Schaffner household fresh rewards of her own literary creativity”—though she appears to have been mostly absent from this actual household. It seems that there is not much about Perdita in H. D., but plenty of H. D. in Perdita. While Perdita’s effect on H. D. cannot really be considered an anecdote, I consider her an important person in H. D.’s life—and was slightly disappointed to find that, ultimately, she isn’t.

Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.   Print
Perdita, Schaffner. “Running.” The Iowa Review 16.3 (1986): 7-13. JSTOR. Web.*
*This is very very interesting reading, I highly recommend it.

Meg’s CC:A

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

Meg’s First CC: B

In “Neither Lesbian nor Straight: Multiple Eroticisms within Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” Sylvia Henneburg explores the nature of the eroticisms and their intent within Dickinson’s poetry. She argues that, while biographers and critics have a tendency to place specific poems within specific sexual contexts (This is a heterosexual poem, while this one is homosexual), Dickinson’s speakers vacillate between sexual identities throughout the course of each poem, thus letting the reader experience “ a continuum of multiple eroticisms.” Henneburg begins this piece by rebuffing several of the primary critics (including Martha Nell Smith) who strive to place Dickinson in a sexual box. By doing so, she says, the critic has a tendency to produce readings that coincide with the idea of hetero/homosexuality in mind, rather than keeping the text more open. Henneburg also notes that the idea of using a binary sexuality, however, is “no longer tenable.” If the homo/hetero rhetoric is not deconstructed from time to time, the individual is left without the realization that human beings can be both sexualities. Furthermore, whether body or text, the individual experiences a variety of erotic experiences and emotions; the boxed terms that critics often throw out—“asexual,” “heterosexual,” etc—are often limiting and they do not fully describe those experiences. It is preferable, then, that Dickinson’s poetry is not reduced to static either-or oppositions but viewed as an “area of perpetual différance.”

As an example, Henneburg gives a reading of Poem 232, “The Sun—just touched the morning—” One reading places the poem in a submissive female, heterosexual context. The morning is cast as the woman, who has achieved femininity in the only way how—through marriage. However, because she has had to give up “all that has gone before” in order to be a bride, the morning is dependent upon the sun, her husband. With his absence, she therefore has nothing; his loss equals her death and places her in an ultimately passive state. Henneburg argues that this reading, however, falls apart by the second stanza. Dependence is part of the reading, as the sun’s touch gives her happiness. However, the morning experiences a “holiday” in his absence, making her free, while the masculine sun must perpetuate between the cyclical motion of night and day. The sun’s absence also creates another pole, night, which is not gendered. Thus, the masculine figure is not the controlling or centered figure in the piece. Furthermore, by the end of the poem, the morning is exhausted, as if from intercourse. She has “lost her crown” and is “unannointed,” however, which implies that the King/Sun/husband is not the only reason for her fulfillment. She therefore experiences multiple eroticisms and jouissance, furthered by the “ha” and “ho” soundplay within the poem.

She also cites 334, which critics often call a homoerotic poem. However, Dickinson avoids the usual homo/hetero binary by experiencing fulfillment with the text, a degendered item, rather than with a specific man or woman. By looking at the poem’s biographical context and noting that it was sent to a woman, the reader could infer that the poem was meant to be of a homoerotic nature. Henneburg reminds the reader that what kind of homoeroticism, however, whether “pure” or bisexual, active, passive, etc, is impossible to know.

Henneburg also discusses the poetic body of Dickinson’s work as a whole. She notes a reading that argues that Dickinson’s thematic vagueness, as well as her use of hyphen and ellipsis, making Dickinson much more vulnerable to the “lover-critic,” making the text a place of both eroticism and sometimes rape. That is, the reader can “enter the Bedeutungsleerstellen (gaps of indeterminacy) as well as the Textleerstellen (physical blanks and vacancies) of the poetic body(s) / he can either “penetrate,” “interpenetrate,” or find further ways of “taking” Dickinson and her poetry.”

577 is also a poem that is given eroticisms, versus eroticism. The addressed is “it,” “thee,” and “Thee all,” which leaves an open gender. Therefore, homo or heterosexual could be an appropriate reading, but neither encapsulates the full meaning, as necrophilia could also categorize the interaction between the addresser and addressed.

Ultimately, Dickinson is perpetually resistant to text, and whenever a meaning is assessed, different readers and contexts always serve to destabilize that meaning. Henneburg therefore concludes that whether due to Dickinson’s “stylistic and thematic indirection, obliquity, and elusiveness, to inconclusive biographical evidence, to the multitude of readers endlessly creating new signification, or to disjunctures between several versions and variants of a single poem, (the) textual-sexual body is in constant motion.”

The reading that Henneburg creates within this piece serves to advocate several warnings to Dickinson’s readers that I think may be necessary to look. Her idea that we not place Dickinson in a box (whether it be a sexual one or no) is perhaps essential to Dickinson’s poetry, since part of the pleasure of reading her is the constant double meaning of words, as well as Dickinson’s resistance to meaning itself. Furthermore, I think a lesson such as this also reminds the reader not to rely on the biography of Dickinson as well, something that we’ve discussed happening frequently with her biographers and critics. This is problematic because we have an inconcrete history of her poetry—what was destroyed or changed or actually sent or not is impossible to know completely. By looking for the multiple eroticisms within a text, we therefore are allowed to disregard biography as the ultimate authority. We are also able to give more credit to Dickinson, remembering that her poetry is never in stasis and set on one meaning, but instead invites the reader constantly to conjecture.

Sylvia Henneberg. “Neither Lesbian nor Straight:.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 4.2 (1995): 1-19. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2011. <>.