Dickinson's Misery

Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading

Virginia Jackson
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Dickinson's Misery
    Book Description:

    How do we know that Emily Dickinson wrote poems? How do we recognize a poem when we see one? InDickinson's Misery, Virginia Jackson poses fundamental questions about reading habits we have come to take for granted. Because Dickinson's writing remained largely unpublished when she died in 1886, decisions about what it was that Dickinson wrote have been left to the editors, publishers, and critics who have brought Dickinson's work into public view. The familiar letters, notes on advertising fliers, verses on split-open envelopes, and collections of verses on personal stationery tied together with string have become the Dickinson poems celebrated since her death as exemplary lyrics.

    Jackson makes the larger argument that the century and a half spanning the circulation of Dickinson's work tells the story of a shift in the publication, consumption, and interpretation of lyric poetry. This shift took the form of what this book calls the "lyricization of poetry," a set of print and pedagogical practices that collapsed the variety of poetic genres into lyric as a synonym for poetry.

    Featuring many new illustrations from Dickinson's manuscripts, this book makes a major contribution to the study of Dickinson and of nineteenth-century American poetry. It maps out the future for new work in historical poetics and lyric theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5075-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Beforehand
    (pp. 1-15)

    Suppose you are sorting through the effects of a woman who has just died and you find in her bedroom a locked wooden box. You open the box and discover hundreds of folded sheets of stationery stitched together with string. Other papers in the bureau drawer are loose, or torn into small pieces, occasionally pinned together; there is writing on a guarantee issued by the German Student Lamp Co., on memo paper advertising THE HOME INSURANCE CO. NEW YORK (“Cash Assets, over SIX MILLION DOLLARS”), on many split-open envelopes, on a single strip three-quarters of an inch wide by twenty-one...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Dickinson Undone
    (pp. 16-67)

    In october 1891, Thomas Wentworth Higginson published an article that may be read as a miniature portrait of Dickinson’s reception as a lyric poet. The article, not ostensibly on the poetry but on “Emily Dickinson’s Letters,” responded to what Higginson called “a suddenness of success almost without a parallel in American literature” (that is, the commercial success of his own first edition of Dickinson’sPoemsthe year before) by making public the poet’s private letters to her future literary editor. After printing the first one (figs. 4a, 4b), from April, 1862, which (now) famously begins,

    MR . HIGGINSON—Are you...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Lyric Reading
    (pp. 68-117)

    In the issue of theSpringfield Republicanfor March 23, 1864, a small notice announced that

    In Flatbush, N.Y., last Sunday, William Cutter, a farm laborer, attempted to shoot Anne Walker, a servant in Judge Vanderbilt’s family. He fired twice, one of the balls passing through her sleeve and the other lodging in her hip. Cutter also shot at Mrs. Vanderbilt, who ran to the assistance of the girl, inflicting a very severe, and probably mortal wound in the abdomen. Cutter’s attentions to Miss Walker had been discarded by her, and hence his attempt at revenge.¹

    The account was reprinted...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Dickinson’s Figure of Address
    (pp. 118-165)

    In her translation of Sappho, Anne Carson asks her reader to compare a fragment that begins,

    ] Sardis

    Often turning her thoughts here


    you like a goddess

    And in your song most of all she rejoiced.

    But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women

    as sometimes at sunset

    The rosyfingered moon surpasses all the stars . . .

    to a letter that Emily Dickinson wrote to Susan Gilbert in 1851:

    I wept a tear here, Susie, on purpose foryou—because this “sweet silver moon” smiles in on me and Vinnie, and then it goes so far before it...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR “Faith in Anatomy”
    (pp. 166-203)

    Jay Leyda thought that it was a reminder to place a book order. David Porter thought that it was “a postage stamp with paper arms glued on.”¹ My students usually think that it is an avant-garde collage. The three-cent stamp with a picture of a steam engine on it stuck to clippings fromHarper’s Weeklythat read “GEORGE SAND” and “Mauprat” (figs. 25a, 25b) seems to have little to do with the lines Dickinson wrote around it. It would be difficult to print the lines in the patterns they assume to make way for the bits of print stuck between...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Dickinson’s Misery
    (pp. 204-234)

    I have not been arguing so far that Dickinson did not write lyrics. I have shown that she did not write the lyrics we have read: since the lyric is a creature of modern interpretation, I have suggested that we have made her writingintothe genre we have read. In some ways, that is a story with a happy ending: as her sister Lavinia wrote in 1890, in gratitude to the editors who first made Dickinson’s writing into a book, “the ‘poems’ would die in the box where they were found” had they not been published and received as...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-240)

    Lyric reading takes many forms, and I do not want my subtitle or the individual chapters of this book to give the impression that I have presented the only American model, much less the only modern model, that would be appropriate to Dickinson, or that there is any way out of the lyric or out of lyric reading as theory or practice, for Dickinson or anyone else. On the contrary, I have wanted to lead my reader into various theories of the lyric in order to think about both genre and genre formation historically. The difficulty of analyzing an object...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 241-274)
  14. Selected Works Cited
    (pp. 275-292)
  15. Index
    (pp. 293-298)