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Emily Dickinson Radical Currents of in her Life, Poetry, and Letters
Emily Dickinson and Religion • 1851: Amherst was in the midst of a religious revival • Several members of the Dickinson family, including her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert, were strongly affected and counted themselves as saved • E. Dickinson wrote to her friend Jane Humphrey in 1850: • “How lonely this world is growing, something so desolate creeps over the spirit and we don't know it's name, and it won't go away, either Heaven is seeming greater, or Earth a great deal more small, or God is more "Our Father," and we feel our need increased. Christ is calling everyone here, all my companions have answered, even my darling Vinnie believes she loves, and trusts him, and I am standing alone in rebellion, and growing very careless. Abby, Mary, Jane, and farthest of all my Vinnie have been seeking, and they all believe they have found; I can't tell you what they have found, but they think it is something precious. I wonder if it is?
The nineteenth-century Christians of Calvinist persuasion continued to maintain the absolute power of God's election. • His omnipotence could not be compromised by an individual's effort; however, the individual's unquestioning search for a true faith was an unalterable part of the salvific equation. • While God would not simply choose those who chose themselves, he also would only make his choice from those present and accounted for-- thus, the importance of church attendance as well as the centrality of religious self-examination. • Revivals guaranteed that both would be inescapable.
As Dickinson wrote in a poem dated to 1875, "Escape is such a thankful Word." • her references to "escape" occur primarily in reference to the soul. • In her scheme of redemption, salvation depended upon freedom. • Dickinson refused to be confined by the elements expected of her
Poetry, in the 1850s, became more important to her than religion • she described but did not specify an "aim" to her life • Announced its novelty: "I have dared to do strange things--bold things"), • asserted her independence: "and have asked no advice from any" • couched it in the language of temptation: "I have heeded beautiful tempters"
Dickinson and Marriage • Close friendship and exchange of writings between Dickinson and Gilbert • Dickinson sent her 270 of her poems; some of them written as letters to Gilbert • Still, the nature of the exchange and relationship apparently did not satisfy Dickinson; some serious break occurred • In a letter dated to 1854 Dickinson begins bluntly, "Sue--you can go or stay--There is but one alternative--We differ often lately, and this must be the last." • Question: nature of their love for each other? • Language of Dickinson’s correspondence with her is passionate, but so are her letters to Humphrey
Dickinson's own ambivalence toward was clearly grounded in her perception of what the role of "wife" required. • In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship • She commented to Gilbert before her marriage to Dickinson’s brother Austin: "How dull our lives must seem to the bride, and the plighted maiden, whose days are fed with gold, and who gathers pearls every evening; but to the wife, Susie, sometimes the wife forgotten, our lives perhaps seem dearer than all others in the world; you have seen flowers at morning, satisfied with the dew, and those same sweet flowers at noon with their heads bowed in anguish before the mighty sun."
After Gilbert’s marriage, Dickinson continued their correspondence but turned her attention more toward other, literary friends: (1858): "My friends are my 'estate.' Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them." • Her decision to restrict her life to the home, often sensationalized, was most likely practical, in order to preserve time for her work • As she turned her attention to writing, she gradually eased out of the countless rounds of social calls • See: poem # 225 (p. 2563), “I’m “wife”—I’ve finished that—”
Dickinson and Publication • #788: “Publication--is the Auction” (p. 2585)