Emily Dickinson, who regarded a letter as “a joy of Earth,” was herself a gifted epistolary artist—cryptic and allusive in style, dazzling in verbal effects, and sensitively attuned to the recipients of her many letters. In this volume, distinguished literary scholars focus intensively on Dickinson’s letter-writing and what her letters reveal about her poetics, her personal associations, and her self-awareness as a writer.
Although Dickinson’s letters have provided invaluable perspective for biographers and lovers of poetry since Mabel Loomis Todd published the first selection in 1894, today’s scholarly climate opens potential for fresh insights drawn from new theoretical approaches, informed cultural contextualizations, and rigorous examination of manuscript evidence. Essays in this collection explore ways that Emily Dickinson adapted nineteenth-century epistolary conventions of women’s culture, as well as how she directed her writing to particular readers, providing subtly tactful guidance to ways of approaching her poetics.
Close examination of her letters reveals the conscious artistry of Dickinson’s writing, from her auditory effects to her experiments with form and tone. Her well-known correspondences with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Susan Dickinson, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Otis Phillips Lord are examined here, but so too are previously neglected family communications with her aunt Kate Sweetser and cousin Eugenia Montague. Contributors find in these various letters evidence of Dickinson’s enthusiastic participation in a sort of epistolary book club involving multiple friends, as well as her loving attentiveness to individuals in times of both suffering and joy. These inquiries highlight her thoughts on love, marriage, gender roles, art, and death, while unraveling mysteries ranging from legal discourse to Etruscan smiles.
In addition to a foreword by Marietta Messmer, the volume includes essays by Paul Crumbley, Karen Dandurand, Jane Donahue Eberwein, Judith Farr, James Guthrie, Ellen Louise Hart, Eleanor Heginbotham, Cindy MacKenzie, Martha Nell Smith, and Stephanie Tingley.