Measures of Possibility
Emily Dickinson's Manuscripts
A study of the poet's distinctive compositional practices
Debates about editorial proprieties have been at the center of Emily Dickinson scholarship since the 1981 publication of the two-volume Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Many critics have since investigated the possibility that autograph poems might have primacy over their printed versions, and it has been suggested that to read Dickinson in any standard typographic edition is effectively to read her in translation, at one remove from her actual practices. More specifically, it has been claimed that line arrangements, the shape of words and letters, and the particular angle of dashes are all potentially integral to any given poem’s meaning, making a graphic contribution to its contents.
In Measures of Possibility, Domhnall Mitchell sets out to test the hypothesis of Dickinson’s textual radicalism, and its consequences for readers, students, and teachers, by looking closely at features such as spacing, the physical direction of the writing, and letter-shapes in handwritten lyric and epistolary texts. Through systematic contextualization and cross-referencing, Mitchell provides the reader with a critical apparatus by which to measure the extent to which contemporary approaches to Dickinson’s autograph procedures can reasonably be formulated as corresponding to the poet’s own purposes.
"Domhnall Mitchell’s critical persona is witty and humane, engaging and astute.. . . the book is sure to have a major impact on Dickinson studies and on editorial politics and practices further afield."—Vivian Pollak, author of Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender
"Measures of Possibility nonetheless offers an important intervention in the debate about manuscript study, and it will undoubtedly shape future conversations about editing Emily Dickinson's work."—The New England Quarterly