August 20-26, 1862: Bowles and Bees

This week, we take our cue from a letter Dickinson wrote to the editor and family friend Samuel Bowles (L272), dated August 1862, while he is touring Europe for his health, in order to continue incorporating letters into our gathering of primary texts and to explore her use of bee imagery in this letter, the symbolism of bees in her writing, which can be quite racy, and the importance of anthropomorphism more generally in her writing.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Efrosyni Manda

During August 1862, Dickinson wrote only two letters that survive to give us a glimpse into her mood and concerns: her fifth letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson (L270), discussed in a previous post, and a letter to Samuel Bowles (1826-1878), owner and editor-in-chief of the Springfield Republican and family friend of the Dickinsons, who had been touring Europe for his health since the spring. This week, we take our cue from this letter to Bowles (L272), in order to continue incorporating letters into our gathering of primary texts and to explore themes Dickinson includes in that letter.

Samuel Bowles (1826-1878)

In her letter, Dickinson expresses her longing for Bowles in terms of the changing of the seasons, from late summer to fall, and through the figure of a bee and its clover. As arthropods, bees are part of a large trove of images Dickinson's drew on frequently. Medical Entomologist Louis C. Rutledge notes that 180 of Dickinson’s 1775 poems (according to Johnson’s 1955 edition)—more than 10 %—refer to one or more arthropods, including her first poem and her last.

As an important pollinator of plants, bees are under severe threat in our time because of environmental challenges, and we wanted to bring attention to that. We also nod to a whimsical essay in Harper’s Monthly for August 1862 about “a fairy that had lost the power of vanishing” and appears in the form of cheerful crickets, another prevalent arthropod in Dickinson’s writing. With this focus, we bring attention to arthropods, explore the role and symbolism of bees in particular for Dickinson, which can be quite racy, and suggest the importance of anthropomorphism more generally in her writing.

“Authors ought to be Read and not Heard”

Springfield Republican, August 23, 1862

Progress of the War, page 1
“The great event of this week has been the transfer of Gen. McClellan’s army to Yorktown [end of the Peninsula Campaign]. Not the slightest molestation was suffered from the enemy during the perilous operation.”

How Do These Men Feel? page 4
“When a man is praised by a scoundrel he ought to suspect himself. The Memphis (Grenada) Appeal, the most malignant of all rebel sheets, praises Seymour of Connecticut, Wood of New York, Vallandigham of Ohio, and ex-president Pierce as the only true friends the South can count upon in the North.”

Mexico and the West Indies, page 4
“The steamer Columbia, from Havana, has arrived at New York. The yellow fever was decreasing, but for the past month had been very fatal.”

Adelaide Anne Procter (1825-1864)
Adelaide Anne Procter (1825-1864)

Poetry, “Ministering Angels” [by Adelaide Anne Procter], page 6

Conversational Powers, page 6
“The late William Hazlitt was of opinion that authors were not fitted, generally speaking, to shine in conversation. ‘Authors ought to be read and not heard.’ Some of the greatest names in English and French literature, men who have filled books with an eloquence and truth that defy oblivion, were mere mutes before their fellow men. They had golden ingots, which, in the privacy of home, they could convert into coin bearing an impress that would insure universal currency; but they could not, on the spur of the moment, produce the farthings current in the marketplace.”

Book, Authors, and Arts, page 7
“A French novel is often an odd compound of fiction and philosophy; but when it is the work of a master, like Victor Hugo, each of these qualities is admirable in its own way. His philosophy is always piquant and readable and raises a thousand questions where it answers one. He drops here a theory and there an epigram, here a sketch from fancy and there a photograph from life, and then puts them all aside for the moment, or rather mingles them all, as he plunges into one of the most exciting stories of the day.”

Hampshire Gazette, August 26, 1862

Literary: Poems of Mrs. Browning, page 1
“Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning ‘as a poet, stands among women unrivaled and alone. In passionate tenderness, in capriciousness of imagination, freshness of feeling, vigor of thought, wealth of ideas and loftiness of soul, her poetry stands alone amongst all that has ever been written by women.’ That opinion, comprehensive in its flattery, we readily adopt in lieu of any praises of our own.”

Amherst, page 3
“The enrolled militia of Amherst number a little more than 400, making the chance for a draft one in ten.”

Harper’s Monthly, August 1862

Tommatoo, page 325
“A fairy that had lost the power of vanishing, and was obliged to remain ever-present, doing continual good; a cricket on the hearth, chirping through heat and cold; an animated amulet, sovereign against misfortune; a Santa Claus, without the wrinkles, but young and beautiful, choosing the darkest moments to leap right into one’s heart, and drop there the prettiest moral playthings to gladden and make gay—such, in my humble opinion, was Tommatoo.”

“Jerusalem Must be like Sue’s Drawing Room”

Samuel Bowles
Samuel Bowles


Samuel Bowles was a handsome, charming and passionate man whose literary interests and public position appealed to Dickinson. He became friends first with Susan and Austin Dickinson, who hosted him many times at the Evergreens. In her “Annals of the Evergreens,” Sue wrote about him in glowing terms:


[He] seemed to enrich and widen all life for us, a creator of endless perspectives. … His range of topics was unlimited, now some plot of local politics, rousing his honest rage, now some rare effusion of fine sentiment over an unpublished poem which he would draw from his pocket, having received it in advance from the fascinated editor.

Dickinson met him in June 1858 at the Evergreens and immediately afterwards wrote him in passionate terms (apparently, “purple” was a color she thereafter associated with him):

Though it is almost nine o'clock, the skies are gay and yellow, and there's a purple craft or so, in which a friend could sail. Tonight “Jerusalem.” I think Jerusalem must be like Sue’s Drawing Room, when we are talking and laughing there, and you and Mrs Bowles are by. (L189)

Especially during the difficult period of 1861-62, Dickinson considered Bowles a special confidante and wrote him frequently, although the friendship suffered a breach which was not repaired until the death of Edward Dickinson, Dickinson’s father, in 1874. Some scholars consider Bowles a likely candidate for the person Dickinson addressed as “Master” during this period. Over the course of their relationship, she sent him 40 poems, and though he was a passionate supporter and publisher of women’s poetry, he never published any of them.

The letter Dickinson wrote to him this month in 1862 expresses her longing in revelatory terms. We focus on the allusion to bees, which comes at the end of the letter in a question:

Sue gave me the paper, to write on – so when the writing tires you – play it is Her, and “Jackey”- and that will rest your eyes – for have not the Clovers, names, to the Bees?

Dickinson refers to the special thin, air-mail stationery Sue gave her to write on. “Jackey” was the name Austin and Sue used for their first son Ned while still a baby. Dickinson suggests that if Bowles gets tired of her letter, he can “play” or pretend it is Sue and her son, comparing them to “the Clovers” that bees identify by name. This obscure reference gains clarity when we explore Dickinson’s wider use of bees in her writing.

Speaking broadly about Dickinson’s frequent references to animals and her attribution of subjectivity to them, Aaron Shakleford argues that Dickinson’s anthropomorphism

uncovers just how limited our own consciousness and epistemology really is, while also demonstrating how this shapes our knowledge of animals. … [Dickinson] demonstrates how to navigate both our inescapable reliance upon the human to "know" the external world and the limitations of our own ability to understand that world.

bee on cloverMore specifically, in her study of Dickinson’s gardens, Judith Farr notes the dual symbolic valence of bees. On the one hand, Dickinson

contemplated the sexual arena of her garden daily. There, the careers of flowers and the dramatic career of the bee as their lover/propagator commanded her attention, for “till the Bee / Blossoms stand negative” (F999).

Thus, bees often emblematize a promiscuous masculine sexuality, and the drama of active (masculine) bee and passive (submissive) flower figures a gendered human theater of love, intimacy, and desire. On the other hand, in her playful/heterodox revision of the Christian trinity dated to 1858, Dickinson prayed:

In the name of the Bee –

And of the Butterfly –
And of the Breeze – Amen!

Thus, as several scholars observe, Dickinson links the gendered sexuality figured by bees to Puritan doctrines of conversion and salvation as well as her own revisions of spirituality. According to Victoria Morgan,

Dickinson disrupts the industriousness culturally associated with bees by employing bee imagery in her depictions of physical and spiritual excess and pleasure. … Dickinson’s excessive bees emulate the “dangerous” sexuality that is forbidden, but also embody the rhapsodic spiritual pleasure which organized religion attempts to name and own.

Taking this one step further, H. Jordan Landry sees Dickinson’s bees as essentially “queer.” They are clearly marked as male and penetrative but engage in what can be read as the lesbianic sexual act of cunnilingus with the feminine flower. According to Landry, Dickinson’s bee imagery

aims at reorganizing the experience, perception, and value of the female anatomy and rewriting its capacities to be pleasured and give pleasure.

bee and cloverFurthermore, Landry argues that Dickinson overlays this rewriting onto Puritan conversion in which Dickinson felt women were regarded as secondary. Landry reads Dickinson’s bee imagery through her early letters to Sue and the queer desires that can be read there. In the letter to Bowles, the bee image is connected to Sue and her young son but directed at Bowles. Is he the “bee” who names, recognizes and pollinates specific clovers? Does this imagery signify differently when Dickinson deploys it to express her longing for Bowles? What queerness inheres in that relationship?

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Efrosyni Manda

A letter requires two communicating poles and its presence presupposes the absence of one of them. It is meant to efface the very gap that brought it to surface by drawing the poles together. Senders were advised to include trivial and gossipy details of their microcosm in their letter so as to relieve the recipient’s pain of separation. However, these moments gone away forever widen the gap since they accentuate absence and exclusion.

In her letter to Samuel Bowles, Emily Dickinson carries the macrocosm of Nature, the Hills, the flowers and the bright autumnal Skies, over to him in an effort to retain a shared referential point, a cosmos that, regardless of the seasonal changes, is permanent, always waiting for him to come back to her. Time is inextricably bound with space and it is chopped away through a peculiar countdown: its passing is not measured by the linear succession of days or months; rather, it’s the changes in nature that constitute milestones towards Bowles’ return. Time is too abstract and immaterial for her to handle; she has to materialize it in its concrete symbols. The Grape, the Pippin, the Chestnut, separated with dashes yet squeezed into the same sentence, resemble a rapid time lapse and constitute tangible proofs that time has indeed passed, that his coming back gets closer. Unlike time in the poem, “If you were coming in the Fall,” which opens up to infinity, in this letter, though painfully slowly, closes steadily in to his return, “[Him]self”.

The absence/presence of the sender/receiver of a letter is mutually interchangeable and negated; concurrence of the poles is impossible. Dickinson’s letter, a communicative device which relies on the metaphor, becomes the vehicle that brings her to Bowles. She carries her parousia over to him; her writing travels through time and space to meet and possibly tire him. Painfully aware of the “Sea” between them, she tracks the steamer that took him away in an attempt to wipe away the ocean that separates them. The projection of his spatiotemporal zone into hers makes them coincide, even apparitionally, and she constructs an a-temporal, a-spatial niche in which the epistolary displacement is annulled so that they can touch each other; he has already returned and rings her bell. Her attempt to coordinate their spatiotemporal zones obscures or even eliminates the boundaries of the epistolary cosmos and produces time textually, allowing Dickinson’s live streaming interaction with Bowles.

Bio: Efrosyni Manda holds a BA in English Literature and Culture and an MA in Translation Studies. She is a PhD Candidate at the University of Athens, Greece. She is working on Emily Dickinson’s Letters and focuses on the ways Dickinson employed the letter, a means of interpellation, to dodge interpellation as well as on the techniques she uses to set a time and place a specific document free from its spatiotemporal boundaries. She has translated Dickinson’s Letters in Greek: "Emily Dickinson: Επειδή δεν άντεχα να ζήσω φωναχτά. Ποιήματα και Επιστολές." I could not bear to live aloud. Translation of a selection of Emily Dickinson's Poems and Letters. Athens: Gutenberg Press, 2013.


Rutledge, Louis C. “Emily Dickinson’s Arthropods.” AMERICAN ENTOMOLOGIST.  Summer 2003, 70-74.


Hampshire Gazette, August 26, 1862

Harper’s Monthly, August 1862

Springfield Republican, August 23, 1862


Dickinson, Susan. “Annals of the Evergreens. EDA, 2008.

Farr, Judith, with Louise Carter. The Gardens of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, 146, 196.

Landry, H. Jordan. “Animal/Insectual/Lesbian Sex: Dickinson’s Queer Vision of the Birds and the Bees.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 9, 2, (Fall 2000): 42-54, 50-51.

Morgan, Victoria. “‘Repairing Everywhere without Design’? Industry, Revery and Relation in Emily Dickinson’s Bee Imagery.” Shaping Belief: Culture, Politics, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Writing. Eds. Clare Williams and Victoria Morgan. Liverpool: Liverpool University Pres, 2008. 73-93, 84.

Shakleford, Aaron. “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism.” 
The Emily Dickinson Journal 19, 2 (2010): 47-66, 61.

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June 11-17, 1862: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This week we explore the influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) on Dickinson, occasioned by Dickinson request in a letter to Samuel Bowles, traveling in Europe for his health, that “if you touch her Grave, put one hand on the Head for me – her unmentioned Mourner.”

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This Week in Biography
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This Week's Reflection – Kirstyn Leuner

Dickinson's room with three portraits
Dickinson's room with three portraits

Only three portraits hung in the corner bedroom of a very selective Emily Dickinson: Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Take a virtual tour here). This week we explore the influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) on Dickinson, occasioned by Dickinson's request in a letter to Samuel Bowles, who was traveling in Europe for his health, that

if you touch her Grave, put one hand on the Head for me – her unmentioned Mourner.

Dickinson knew that Bowles would try to visit the grave of this famous writer because he took two books with him on his tour: the Bible and Barrett Browning’s epic poem Aurora Leigh. Many consider Barrett Browning to be Dickinson’s most important and beloved literary foremother.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
We will explore what drew Dickinson to Barrett Browning, from a literary as well as a personal perspective. While Barrett Browning is best known these days for Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), a series of love poems to her husband, we will focus on the epic novel-poem, Aurora Leigh, published in 1856 and read by Dickinson in the late 1850s-early 1860s. Condemned by some contemporary reviewers as too frank about taboo subjects like female desire, prostitution, and rape, it achieved critical acclaim and wide popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although Aurora Leigh fell out of the canon in the first half of the 20th century, feminist scholars recovered it and study it as the first, first person account of a woman poet’s coming of age, struggling against conservative Victorian social conventions, gender restrictions, and her own conflicting desires for love. In Literary Women, Ellen Moers called it

the epic poem of the literary woman herself.

As such, it spoke volumes to a young aspiring poet in rural Massachusetts.

“The Woman that Writes”


Springfield Republican, June 14, 1862
Progress of the War, page 1

This week has been one of prosperity to the union arms, though no great movements have occurred. No considerable action has taken place before Richmond. At no point has there been a rebel gain.

Verbal Foundlings, page 2

There are some words of doubtful parentage, words picked up in the street, or dropped mysteriously at some hospitable door. If they receive shelter and kind treatment, they sometimes develop into useful members of society, but too often, like other orphans, they are overworked in their youth and afterwards ignore or neglected. In such cases what must be our emotions when we learn that the mysterious stranger is of ancient and eminent parentage.

Civilization in Africa and in Dixie, page 2

But with all the advantages and benefits derived from the peculiar institution [of slavery], [human inhabitants of equatorial Africa] are still savages, and there is nothing beautiful or fascinating about them, not even when they smile. They are, however, valiant warriors, and excel in the manufacture of arms, particularly in the spear and the sword. Why, the weapons of war made by those savages are as much superior to those manufactured by the chivalry of the South, as those of Damascus or Chicapoo are superior to those produced by the savages. If those weapons [of the South], thousands of which have been taken from captured rebels, should be exhibited to the wild cannibals of Africa, they would exclaim, “What barbarians made these shocking looking knives and swords!”

The Woman That Writes, page 6

Grace Fenton was only twelve years of age, and although her quick scholarship had given her a place in the first class, yet nobody thought of her writing a theme for the occasion. As she blushingly went through [her composition], her fellow pupils whispered to each other—“Grace never wrote that;” “Her father helped her;” “Certainly, of course.” But there was one among the visitors who rose and said:—
“The written exercises are highly creditable to the ingenuity and skill of the writers. Some of them are proofs of patient research and great judgment in selection, but the brief and artless essay to which we last listened was given us not only by the writer but by the author.”
In these brief and sensible remarks was a single word that proved fated to Grace’s peace. “The author.”

Poetry, page 6

Three poems appeared in this week’s Republican; all included themes of death, country living. and faith.

Hampshire Gazette, June 17, 1862

Immediate Emancipation, page 2

The emancipation movement does not progress fast enough for many people. If a desire to see that institution banished from the land is abolitionism, then we are all abolitionists. On that point we are all united; yet on the question of immediate and general emancipation, there are wide differences of opinion.

The Atlantic Monthly, June 15, 1862

“Walking” by Henry David Thoreau

How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know; but I have grounds to suspect that most of them do not stand it at all.

Harper’s Monthly, June 1862, page 123

There is a poem of Mrs. Browning’s in the “Last Poems,” lately published, which is the most pathetic and passionate expression of the woe of a mother who loses both her boys in the Italian war of liberation [“Mother and Poet” p. 183]. If you do not happen to like Mrs. Browning’s poems, as the Country Parson says he cannot read Carlyle, it is not necessary to read the stanzas I am going to quote. But don’t for a moment imagine that you have said a fine thing in saying so, or that you have shown yourself to be downright common-sensible. You may not like Shakespeare’s music, the odor of magnolias—but they are good.

“Her Unmentioned Mourner”

By the time of her death in 1861, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had achieved wide international success as a prolific poet and outspoken liberal voice on issues like child labor reform and abolitionism. When Thomas Wentworth Higginson asked Dickinson, in his response to her first letter dated April 15, 1862, who and what she read, she responded “– For Poets – I have Keats – and Mr and Mrs Browning” (L261). Though scholars find echoes of Robert Browning’s poetry in Dickinson’s verse, Barrett Browning was the much larger and more significant influence for Dickinson in her formative years.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Robert Browning (1812-1889)

As Higginson observed in an 1854 letter to Robert Browning, her widely reviewed collection Poems [1844; expanded 1850, 1853, 1856] made

Mrs. Browning’s poems . . . household words in Massachusetts to every school boy & (yet more) every school girl.

A supporter of women’s rights, Higginson recognized the importance of Barrett Browning as a model for young women who aspired to independence and careers. In addition, Barrett Browning’s story was compelling and romantic. She showed early poetic prowess, but an illness and a riding injury made her an invalid and kept her frail throughout her life. After the poet Robert Browning read her poetry, they began a correspondence that blossomed into romance and a secret elopement against her father’s wishes.

Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881)
Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881)

It is important to note, however, that Higginson’s feminism was a minority position. By contrast, Josiah Gilbert Holland, another of Dickinson’s close friends and the literary editor and part owner of the Springfield Republican, was an antifeminist who opposed women’s rights to vote and own property. In 1858, he published an essay, “Women in Literature,” in which he expressed the fairly widespread idea, explicitly countered by Barrett Browning, that men have principles while women express fancies. He also dismissed Dickinson’s beloved Aurora Leigh, along with another passionate favorite, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Scholars argue that Dickinson was drawn to Barret Browning because of similarities in their social situations. The Englishwoman was from a gentrified, middle class family, with roots in the creole plantation culture of Jamaica, had a docile mother, who birthed twelve children, a strong-willed, tyrannical father, and a favorite brother. She came to her love and study of poetry early, was self-educated, and suffered illness and injury which kept her a recluse for many years. She even had a constant canine companion named Flush (a cocker spaniel whom Virginia Woolf famously wrote about), counterpart to Dickinson’s Carlo.

The resemblance stops there, though, for Barrett Browning eagerly published her work, courted popularity, and was outspoken on contemporary social issues. She had a whirlwind courtship with the dashing younger poet, Robert Browning, married him and moved to Italy, where her health improved and allowed her to have a child. She managed to combine literature and love, work and motherhood in a way that Dickinson could not or chose not to. Some scholars speculate that Barrett Browning lived the life Dickinson dreamed of, while Betsy Erkkila contends that we should pay attention to the differences between them, and that Dickinson was, in some sense, truer to her “better self” and a more radical vision of women’s art and independence.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her son Pen
Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her son Pen, 1860

Still, Barrett Browning’s struggles as a woman and poet and her notion of the noble and sacred vocation of poetry spoke to Dickinson. She owned the 1859 edition of Aurora Leigh and first referred to it in her letters in 1861. In nine books of blank verse, this epic poem tells the story of Aurora Leigh, daughter of an English father and Italian mother, who is orphaned at twelve, raised by her “caged bird” English aunt, and courted by her cousin Romney Leigh, a social reformer who does not believe women can make art. Aurora rejects Romney’s offer and moves to London to pursue a career as a poet.

Their complex story has a subplot involving the destitute Marian Erle, one of Romney’s “projects,” who is trafficked by her abused mother and eventually sold into prostitution in Paris, raped, and driven partly mad. Aurora takes Marian to live with her in Italy, but eventually realizes she loves Romney, who goes blind and comes to acknowledge her poetic achievement. Aurora finally marries him, while Marian dedicates herself to raising her daughter. Along the way, Aurora discusses women’s desires, men’s dominance, and her struggles to make art. Barrett Browning called it

the most mature of my works, and the one into which my highest convictions upon Life and Art have entered.

Sometime in mid-June, 1862, Dickinson wrote to Samuel Bowles, away in Europe, telling him how she missed him acutely and adding her special, perhaps ghoulish, request:

If you should like to hear the news, we did not die – here – We did not change. We have the Guests we did, except yourself – and the Roses hang on the same stems – as before you went. Vinnie trains the Honeysuckle – and the Robins steal the strings for Nests – quite, quite as they used to – I have the errand from my heart – I might forget to tell it. Would you please to come Home? The long life's years are scant, and fly away, the Bible says, like a told story – and sparing is a solemn thing, somehow, it seems to me – and I grope fast, with my fingers, for all out of my sight I own – to get it nearer -
Should anybody where you go, talk of Mrs. Browning, you must hear for us – and if you touch her Grave, put one hand on the Head for me – her unmentioned Mourner –(L266).

Barrett Browning died on June 30, 1861 in Florence, Italy, her adopted home, where she is buried. A year later, Dickinson still styled herself in mourning for someone especially important to her—so important that she bid Bowles to lay hands upon “the Head” of the grave for her, as if to make concrete (through another of her literary intimates) the deep connection she feels to a poet she has never met but who shaped her sense of what a woman could do.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb, English Cemetery, Florence. 2007
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb, English Cemetery, Florence. 2007

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Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Kirstyn Leuner

Kirstyn LeunerThis week’s post on the influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Emily Dickinson invites reflection on how women writers are able to influence each other. It is remarkable that Dickinson knew where Barrett Browning’s grave was located in light of the fact that there were so many women writing at the time, and so few of whom received due notice or critical acclaim. Barrett Browning was exceptional not only for her writing but also for her fame in life and death.

I taught an undergraduate British literature course this Spring that explores what it means to be a canonical woman writer of the long 18th century and how that compares to women who are elsewhere on the continuum between canonical and unknown. For the first half of the term, we read writing by women who are varying shades of well-known, canonical, and at smaller risk of being forgotten, such as Aphra Behn, Mary Collier, and Mary Shelley, who is being celebrated around the globe for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.

We dedicated the second half of the term to reading and writing about  work by understudied or unknown women authors, like S. Robinson, Esther Barnes, and Maria Grace Saffery. In fact, it was a student, Danna D’Esopo, who discovered that Saffery wrote the last poem we studied in the course, entitled “Cheyt Sing” (1790) though the title page gives no author attribution. We approached these works differently from how we approached Frankenstein, for example, since there is little or no research published specifically on the author or the work to provide context. We read closely as an act of recovery: using front matter, title pages, advertisements, dedications, the text itself, marginalia, and any information about the book we could glean from digital images.

E. Barnes title pageA poem we read together by Esther Barnes called “The Disengaged Fair” (1796) contains a call to gather a vocal tribe of women writers in support women’s independence. The poem begins as a response to a middle-aged widower who placed a single’s ad in a newspaper addressed “to the Disengaged Fair,” seeking a wife “who may wish to give Retirement and Ease the Preference to a single Life.” The gentleman threatens to treat applicants without sufficient virtue “with the Contempt they deserve.” In her poem, Barnes writes back to the gentleman “in Behalf of the Fair Disengag’d” and makes witty demands of her own on the habits and virtue of a prospective husband. Then, she writes to the women she is in solidarity with:

What, barter our liberty, to be a slave,
To a clown or a fop, a fool or a knave;
Consider, good ladies, we can do as we please,
We have no one to vex us, nor no one to teaze.
I think all that makes us poor ladies afraid,
Is that frightful sound, ah! There goes an old maid!
All I now wish is, that the body at large
Would make a petition, and lay down a charge,
That not one in future should ever us call
But Disengag’d Ladies, and that should be all.
And therefore I think we’ll all vow and declare,
That we will be call’d the Disengag’d Fair.
Ought we not to have some badge or some sign,
That we are all maidens, and maidens divine.
I wish that the ladies would now out of hand,
Send up their name, and we’d form a grand band,
And would all marshal forth for the good of the
This I think, that we ladies would stand by our
And trim all those husbands who their wives don’t
To find out our friends will surely be hard,
So we’ll rally our forces, and be on our guard.
And now our whole body declare with our pen,
That we will esteem all worthy good men. (ll. 12-13)

Here, the poet creates her own competing advertisement to the widower’s. As a counterpoint to marriage (a union of the widower and his “disengaged fair”), Barnes wants to create another kind of union: an army of disengaged women, a “grand band” for the cause of maidens, also a pun on a wedding ring. But like the widower, she needs applicants to “send up their name” to her, because it will be hard to “find out our friends.” The disengaged fair, whether they will be future friends in Barnes’s band, or brides, are unknown. They’re out there, but they require a printed advertisement to muster.

Despite its humor, I find the medium of Barnes’s call, through an advertisement in a newspaper mimicking the widower’s personal ad, trivializing. In addition, her inability to name the names of like-minded women writers who might join her suggests how isolated she was from other women writers and how anonymous they were at the time.

At least Dickinson was able to identify Barrett Browning as an author who expressed what it meant to be an independent woman writer and latch onto her for inspiration, even to the point of being able to locate her grave and send someone to “fangirl” there on her behalf. Barnes’s search for compatriot women she admired who were independent-minded when it came to marriage and writing was much harder: she can’t name them, much less know where they are buried. Shows how far women had come by the mid-nineteenth century.

Kirstyn Leuner is Assistant Professor of English at Santa Clara University, where she specializes in British literature of the long eighteenth-century, Digital Humanities (DH), women’s writing, and Romanticism. She is Director of The Stainforth Library of Women’s Writing and at work on a related interdisciplinary monograph. Both projects seek to recover and study Francis Stainforth's 19th-century private library that contained approximately 8,800 volumes of writing produced by women. She has published essays on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Rodolphe Töpffer’s earliest comic strips, markup languages, and book history. She earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Colorado Boulder and, following this, was Postdoctoral Fellow in the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College.
Visit her research website or on Twitter @KLeuner


Moers, Ellen. Literary Women: The Great Writers. Garden City: Doubleday, 1976.

Atlantic Monthly, June 15, 1862

Hampshire Gazette, June 17, 1862.

Springfield Republican, June 14, 1862

Erkkila, Betsy. The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History, and Discord. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 68-79.

Stone, Marjorie. “Lyric Tipplers: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Wine of Cyprus,” Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor,” and the Transatlantic Anacreontic Tradition.” Victorian Poetry 54.2 Summer 2016): 123-154, quoted from The Brownings’ Correspondence, 23 volumes, eds. Philip Kelley et al. Winfield, KS: Wedgestone: 1984–2015, 20: 53.

For information on Barrett Browning, a summary of Aurora Leigh and selected books from the poem, see the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Archive 

For a short account of the Brownings in Dickinson’s life, with a list of further references, see Curtis, Audrey. “Browning Robert (1812-1889) and Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861).” All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World. Ed. Wendy Martin. Santa Barbara: Greenwood: 2014, 1: 129-33.

On Josiah Holland, see Leiter, Sharon. Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to her Life and Work.  New York: Facts on File, 2007, 326.


May 7-13, 1862: Wanderlust

During the month of May, Dickinson mourned the absence of her dear friend, the Springfield Republican editor, Samuel Bowles, who had embarked on a long European tour to improve his faltering health. This week, we explore Dickinson’s complex, intense relationship with Bowles, and the pressures placed on it, through the theme of foreign travel and Dickinson’s fascination with the East.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Joe Waring

“Telescoping Places”

We shall give you a gossiping personal letter occasionally, but a tour for health will not cheat its purpose with writing the oft repeated story of foreign travel.

              —Samuel Bowles, from a letter printed in the Springfield Republican, May 10th, 1862

During the month of May, Dickinson mourned the absence of her dear friend, Springfield Republican editor, Samuel Bowles, who had embarked on a long European tour to improve his faltering health. This week, we explore Dickinson’s complex, intense relationship with Bowles, and the pressures placed on it, through the theme of foreign travel. Though Dickinson didn’t stray far from the Homestead, she eagerly consumed news from abroad in the Republican, in her readings, and in her correspondences. She looked forward to letters from Bowles, some of which she read in the Republican, where he offered rich and sharply observed descriptions of England,  Ireland and the Continent.

Their relationship and correspondence underscore a fascination with travel, otherness, and foreign places that Dickinson exhibited in much of her writing, which is often expansive, reaching far beyond the narrow confines of Amherst life. Mary Kuhn points out that Dickinson frequently compresses vast distances into short lines or tight stanzas. For example, in 1860, Dickinson wrote:

Kashmir Valley
Kashmir Valley

If I could bribe them with a Rose
I’d bring them every flower that grows
From Amherst to Cashmere!     (F176A)

We are swept from the Homestead to the Kashmir Valley near the Himalayas on the Indian subcontinent in one line. That flowers are the means of such compression points to Dickinson’s consciousness of the international mobility of plants, a theme we explored last week.

Cristanne Miller is particularly interested in Dickinson’s images of Asia and the East and finds that her “use of the idioms of Orientalism and foreign travel” in her poetry reaches a peak between 1860 and 1863. Miller explains:

Such images were not unusual at the time; Orientalism was in its heyday during the 1850’s in the United States. Dickinson both extended this discourse and critiqued it in her poems. She was part of a community that perceived its material pleasures, religious obligations, and republican principles, if not identity itself, in relation to global exchange, including commerce with … the “Orient” or “Asia.”

Dickinson read about the East, Asia, and the lands of the Bible in essays in the Atlantic and Harper’s, and her family library had copies of The Koran and several accounts of expeditions to places in the East. In her letters to her brother Austin, Dickinson teased him about his passionate reading of the Arabian Nights, which was immensely popular at the time and fostered a stereotypical and colonialist image of the East as a land of luxury and sensuality (see Letters 19, 22)

Dickinson’s fascination with places and her ability to “telescope” space, in the words of Christine Gerhardt, has opened a new direction in Dickinson scholarship that unfixes her from a narrow confinement to the small town of Amherst and her local surroundings, instead highlighting her global and even planetary dimensions.

“The Wounded Heart”


Springfield Republican, May 10, 1862, page 3
“Rev. Mr. Green, a colored local Methodist preacher, was five years ago sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in Maryland, for having in his possession a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Numerous efforts have been made to secure his pardon, but without success until a few days since, when Gov. Bradford set him at liberty. He is required, however, to leave the state, and is already on his way to Canada.”

Springfield Republican, May 10, 1862, page 5
Williamsburg Evacuated. Details of Monday’s Operations. Advance Near Williamsburg, Monday evening, May 5th—To the Associated Press:—

When my dispatch was sent last evening that the indications were that our troops would occupy Williamsburg without much opposition.

Springfield Republican, May 10, 1862, page 5
Gen. McClellan Overtakes the Enemy.
The following was received at the war department Monday noon:—

Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, May 4th, 7 o’clock, p.m.—Our cavalry and horse artillery came up with the enemy’s rear guard in their entrenchments, about two miles this side of Williamsburg. A brisk fight ensued. … The enemy’s rear is strong, but I have force enough up there to answer all purposes. … The success is brilliant, and you may rest assured that its effects will be of the greatest importance. There shall be no delay in following up the enemy. The rebels have been guilty of the most murderous and barbarous conduct in placing torpedoes within the abandoned works, near wells and springs, near flag-staffs, magazines, telegraph offices … Fortunately, we have not lost many men in this manner—some four or five killed, and perhaps a dozen wounded. I shall make the prisoners remove them at their own peril. G.B. McClellan, Major General.

Springfield Republican, May 10, 1862, page 6 Poetry: “The Wounded Heart.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sweet, thou hast trod on a heart.
Pass! there’s a world full of men;
And women as fair as thou art
Must do such things now and then.

Thou only hast stepped unaware,—
Malice, no one can impute;
And why should a heart have been there
In the way of a fair woman’s foot?

It was not a stone that could trip,
Nor was it a thorn that could rend:
Put up thy proud underlip!
’Twas merely the heart of a friend.

And yet peradventure one day
Then, sitting alone at the glass,
Remarking the bloom gone away,
Where the smile in its dimplement was,

And seeking around thee in vain,
From hundreds who flattered before,
Such a word as, “Oh, not in the main
Do I hold thee less precious, but more!”

Thou’lt sigh, very like, on thy part,
“Of all I have known or can know,
I wish I had only that heart
I trod upon ages ago!”

                   —Mrs. Browning

Springfield Republican, May 10, 1862, page 7:  On A Rose.—Be An Epicure

I thank thee, fair maid, for this beautiful rose,
Fresh with dew from the favorite bowers;
In the bloom of the garden no rival it knows,
For the rose is the beef-steak of flowers.

“The Heart Wants What it Wants”

By April of 1862, Samuel Bowles had embarked on his trip to Europe, and on May 10th, Emily Dickinson—who was keenly affected by his absence—caught wind of his whereabouts in the Springfield Republican. His remarks, written from off the coast of Liverpool while en route to Paris,  were printed alongside a set of letters from passengers aboard the Steamer China.

Samuel Bowles

Bowles had entered into Dickinson’s life four years earlier, in 1858, and became an important presence in Dickinson’s poems and correspondences. As biographer Richard Sewall notes, his place in her life is difficult to determine:

whether Bowles was at the exact center of it, or whether he was only a part of it, a catalyst in a mixing of many elements, cannot yet be said with certainty.

At any rate, Bowles was certainly someone to whom Dickinson addressed poems. Somewhere between 1861 and 1862—scholars disagree due to her shifting handwriting during this period—Dickinson wrote, “Dear Mr. Bowles,” accompanied by the following verse:

Victory comes late,
And is held low to freezing lips
Too rapt with frost
To mind it!
How sweet it would have tasted!
Just a drop!
Was God so economical?
His table’s spread too high
Except we dine on tiptoe!
Crumbs fit such little mouths –
Cherries – suit Robins –
The Eagle’s golden breakfast – dazzles them!
God keep his vow to “Sparrows,”
Who of little love – know how to starve!  (F195A, J690)

The last line, Sewall points out, could indicate Dickinson’s willingness, even her desire to “exist on whatever bit (crumb) of love he chooses to bestow on her.” Hungry for such a crumb, Dickinson would have read the correspondences published in the Republican, pleased to hear the descriptions of Bowles’ journey:

We land at Liverpool this noon, and the end of our 18th day. The Irish and English shores in sight yesterday and today are a contrast in their rich green verdure and advanced cultivation to those we left behind us in America, dotted even in New Jersey and on Long Island with snow, or the barrenness and deadness of winter. The season here seems like the last of our May. We spend but a few days in England now, going over to Paris for May, and returning to Britain for the riper and richer June. We shall give you a gossiping personal letter occasionally, but a tour for health will not cheat its purpose with writing the oft repeated story of foreign travel. S. B.

Interestingly, the letter closes a temporal gap, as if to reduce the geographic distance between Bowles and his reader. “The season here seems like the last of our May,” he writes, likening England in late April to New England’s May. Thus, he and Dickinson occupy the same clime despite being separated by continents, and because the letter wouldn’t be published until May in the Springfield Republican, the “now” and the climate of the letter converge with the “now” and the climate of Amherst, upon Dickinson's reading.

Around the same time the Republican printed  Bowles’ letter, Dickinson wrote to his wife, Mary Bowles, expressing sympathy for her husband’s absence.

When the best is gone I know that other things are not of consequence. The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care (L262).

Notably, the letter reads as if in two voices. Dickinson refers to “the heart” in general, as if to imply Mary’s, but also her own. The doubling continues and intensifies when she writes,

Not to see what we love, is very terrible – and talking – doesn’t ease it – and noting does – but just itself.

The peculiar use of “we” in a letter ostensibly about another woman’s husband stands out, as Dickinson co-opts Mary’s longing for her husband as her own.

As we discuss in the poetry section for this week, one indication of Bowles’ influence is Dickinson’s fascination with “foreignness,” place names, and “exotic” references during this period. Cristanne Miller points out that Dickinson had some knowledge of Asia, and often criticized Western attitudes of racism and colonialist “Orientalism.” As exemplified in Bowles’ letter from the China Steamer, “news about foreign lands was delivered daily to the Dickinson household through the pages of the Springfield Republican.” Dickinson’s isolation in Amherst, intensified by Bowles’ departure for Europe, was, perhaps, partly remedied by identifying “ontologically” with “epistemologies of foreignness” that brought her ever closer to him.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Joe Waring

Joseph WaringBy the time Dickinson was writing in the year of the “white heat,” interest in “Orientalism” had reached its peak in the American cultural imagination (Miller 118). The “Orient,” as Edward Said notes in Orientalism, his groundbreaking work of postcolonial theory, is the

place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring image of the Other

—and an interest in identity-formation in opposition to those images played out throughout the West (Said 1). Moreover, Said considers “Orientialism” to be not only a set of oppositions and ideas, but a

mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles,

all of which would become fodder for Dickinson’s poetic lexicon (Said 2). In fact, Miller locates about seventy different references to the “Orient” in Dickinson’s poetry, as she played her role in a long-established tradition of evoking “Oriental” tropes in writing—a discourse she ultimately perpetuated as well as criticized (Miller 118-119). Understanding “Orientalism” in this way—as a discourse, Said contends, allows us to trace the

enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period.

Dickinson’s poetry—in its frequent references and deep interest in the “Orient”—urgently calls to be understood as part of this process (Said 3).

Why was Dickinson so interested in the “Orient” in the first place? To start, she voraciously consumed the literature, news, and culture that she came into contact with. As Miller points out, “news about foreign lands was delivered daily to the Dickinson household through the pages of the Springfield Republican,” and she would have developed a deep interest in “foreignness” as her close friend, Samuel Bowles, set out for Europe in 1862, leaving her behind in Amherst. She also occupied a social milieu in which everyone else was fascinated by the “Orient,” too. New Englanders were constantly filling their homes with “knickknacks, the fine china dogs and cats, the pieces of oriental jade, the chips off the leaning tower of Pisa” (Tate 155). What’s more, Dickinson visited the Peter’s Chinese Museum in 1846, which documented the Anglo-Sino Opium War, spurring great interest in the use of narcotics (Li-hsin 9).

Among American writers, Dickinson was not alone in her invocation of “Orientalism.” Miller notes that “Emerson, Whittier, Bayard Taylor, Lydia Maria Child, and Whitman” were all deeply interested in “Asian scripture and literature” in a way that surpassed Dickinson (Miller 129). The transcendentalists in particular looked to “Asian philosophy and religion as a source of spiritual inspiration or knowledge” (129). Whitman, even more problematically, viewed “Asia as a natural partner to or goal of American westward expansion”—a form of U.S. imperialism that Dickinson largely avoided (130). Where the transcendentalists sought to incorporate the “Orient” both into their spirituality, philosophy, and—imperialistically—their geography, Dickinson saw Asia as an “unknown” that could inspire insight into her understanding of her own context.

While Dickinson’s use of “Orientalist” references was in line with historical trends and interests, what she read and learned about the “Orient” may have expanded her ability to think about contemporary issues at home, thus participating in what Said sees as a trend of oppositional identity formation. Dickinson’s 1864 poem, “Color – Caste – Denomination” (F836), which in its title alone addresses three pressing issues of American society, makes use of “Oriental” imagery to comment on contemporary social and political issues:

Color – Caste – Denomination – 

These – are Time's Affair – 

Death's diviner Classifying 

Does not know they are -

As in sleep – all Hue

forgotten – 

Tenets – put behind – 

Death's large – Democratic


Rub away the Brand -

If Circassian – He is careless – 

If He put away 

Chrysalis of Blonde – or Umber – 

Equal Butterfly -

They emerge from His Obscuring – 

What Death – knows so well – 

Our minuter intuitions – 

Deem unplausible

Race, socioeconomic status, and religion—topics that are well-documented in Dickinson’s poetry, as well as in the blog posts for several of the weeks in 1862—were important to Dickinson’s understanding of the “Orient,” just as they were in the United States; they are, universally speaking, “Time’s Affair,” unified across continents insofar as “Death’s diviner Classifying / Does not know they are.” Death’s “large – Democratic / fingers” are democratic precisely because they touch everyone, everywhere. “If Circassian,” she seems to ask, the effect is the same as if the question were, “If from Amherst?” The poem makes frequent reference to skin tone and race: “color,” “Hue,” “Blonde,” “Umber”—a lexicon that maintains its urgency whether in reference to American abolition or the Circassians.

What, then, do we make of these references? As Said points out, the academic and literary traditions of “Orientalism” are not innocuous; “European culture,” he points out, “gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self” (Said 3). The natural consequence of identity formation that opposes itself to an “other,” Said continues, is a “flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand” (7). As such, there is much to be criticized, examined, and understood about conceptions of “otherness” and “foreignness” in Dickinson’s frequent evocation of the “Orient.” Miller offers some consolation in that, though Dickinson certainly participated in a troubling and long history of “Orientalism,” she did so with her characteristic empathy:

Instead, Dickinson’s Orientalism borrows from and rewrites the symbolic geographies of her era. While popular geographies portrayed people in relation to stereotyped coordinates of the South, North, East, and West, her representations of Asians were without exception sympathetic, even if romantically or ambivalently so (Miller 130).


Hsu, Li-hsin. “Emily Dickinson's Asian Consumption.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 22, no. 2, 2013, pp. 1-25,135.

Miller, Cristanne. Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012, 118-146.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Tate, Allen. "New England Culture and Emily Dickinson." The Recognition of Emily Dickinson: Selected Criticism Since 1890. Ed. Caesar R. Blake and Carlton F. Wells. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1965.

bio: Joe Waring is a Dartmouth ’18, who studied English, Italian, and Linguistics. He came by Dickinson like most, in his high school classroom, where he memorized “It Feels A Shame To Be Alive,” and was happy to revisit Dickinson in Professor Schweitzer’s class, “The New Emily Dickinson: After The Digital Turn.” His favorite Dickinson poem is, unquestionably, “The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants” (J1298, F1350).

Gerhardt, Christine. “Often seen–but seldom felt”: Emily Dickinson’s Reluctant Ecology of Place.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 15.1 (2006): 73.

Kuhn, Mary. “Dickinson and the Politics of Plant Sensibility.” ELH, 85:1 (Spring 2018), 143-44.

Miller, Cristanne. Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012, 118-20.

This week in History:
Springfield Republican,  Sat May 310 1862.

This week in Biography:
Miller, Cristanne. Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012, 119.

Sewall, Richard. The Life of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980,  492-93.


February 12-18, 1862: Entitle

This week, we explore the importance of naming. Dickinson’s own conception of identification was as unconventional as the rest of her—she sneered at her era’s narrow definition of womanhood and rarely if ever gave titles to her poems. Much of her poetry in 1862 ruminates on titles, self-naming and self-possession. What exactly was her relationship to naming, and how did it influence her life and her writing?

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Eliot Cardinaux

The Power of Naming

What does it take for a person to be named a person? What did it take for a woman in rural New England in the second half of the nineteenth century to be named and name herself a person worthy of regard and respect? Much less a poet?

It is, perhaps, telling that in her first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson did not sign her name but included it on a separate card in its own envelop. Under the religious and gender conventions of Dickinson’s day, women became worthy if they made a declaration of faith in God, married a man (which involved taking his name), had and raised children, bore up humbly under burdens and sacrifices, and had a “good” (that is, willing) death.

Dickinson sneered at this narrow definition of womanhood, dismissing it as “dimity convictions” (dimity was a sheer cotton fabric used to make curtains) in a poem Franklin dates to 1863:

What Soft – Cherubic Creatures -
These Gentlewomen are -
One would as soon assault
 a Plush -
Or violate a Star -

Such Dimity Convictions -
A Horror so refined
Of freckled Human Nature -
Of Deity – Ashamed -

It's such a common – Glory -
A Fisherman's – Degree -
Redemption – Brittle Lady -
Be so – ashamed of Thee – (F675A, J401)

For Dickinson, personhood was bound up with womanhood, sainthood and poethood, and involved a different kind of “degree.” In the poem above, she calls it “A Fisherman’s – Degree,” a qualification linked to the messy “freckled” realities of the laboring class and also to a proselytizing Jesus who would make his disciples “fishers of men.” In many poems from 1862, Dickinson’s speakers refer to degrees of royalty, self-sovereignty and spiritual entitlement, as well as self-naming and self-possession.

Dickinson’s Webster’s Dictionary defined “title” as a “right” in many spheres, such as law, society, and literature. Titles as “an appellation of dignity, distinction or pre-eminence” run counter to an American democratic spirit. Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson all fiercely rejected European distinctions of rank, social hierarchy, and inherited position, though Dickinson’s father and her brother Austin after him were both known informally as the “Squire” of Amherst. Titles, entitlement, and power for Dickinson are entangled with complex and sometimes ambivalent feelings.

In the literary sphere, titles denote the names of works and authors; it is telling that Dickinson rarely if ever gave titles to her poems. In Dickinson’s Webster’s, both "title" and "entitle" define literary distinction through the daunting representative of the patriarchal poetic tradition, John Milton. The second definition of “entitle” as “to superscribe or prefix” continues:

Hence as titles are evidences of claim or property, to give a claim to; to give a right to demand or receive. The labor of the servant entitles him to his wages. Milton is entitled to fame. Our best services do not entitle us to heaven.

The fifth definition of “title” is “A name; an appellation,” and offers an example from Milton that makes the opposite claim of distinction in reference to women:

“Ill worthy I such title should belong / To me transgressor. ”– Milton.

This is Eve speaking, hesitant to accept the title of “Mother of all Mankind,” because she fears she has ensnared Adam in the temptation and fall (Paradise Lost Bk 11, 163-64.) Even if Dickinson did not consult her Webster’s for these definitions, she knew Paradise Lost and would have been well aware, through religious teachings, of the original opprobrium attached through Eve to women.

For the theme of entitle, we take our cue from a group of letters Dickinson wrote to her friend Samuel Bowles, who was absent on a health-restoring trip to Europe. In one of these letters (L 250) she encloses the touchstone poem “Title divine – is mine!” (F194A and B, J 1072) with this comment:

Here's – what I had to ‘tell you’ –.

We will discuss this poem, and its variants, in more detail in the selection of poems. It contains a cluster of images that recur in poems during this period, exploring issues of and attitudes towards entitlement and power.

“True womanhood” = “good Union woman”


The Springfield Republican happily reports that England and France will not intervene in the war, once the news of the latest victories reach them. If they do come to the aid of the Confederacy, the columnist says, they are not true allies of the United States.

Another column ponders using war loans to pay for the Civil War. It cites England’s four billion-dollar debt, taken on years ago to wage war against France, to justify using foreign money to pay for a war that would essentially put the United States back together.


Springfield Republican, February 15, 1862:
Review of the Week. This week’s review takes up nearly three columns and discusses the “Progress of the War,” chronicling the preparations, battles, and other small happenings related to the Civil War from all over the country.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), General and 18th president

Among the highlights are reports of General Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Fort Henry on February 6, the arrest of Union General Stone (and other civilians) on the grounds of treason and collusion with the enemy, and the sense of hopelessness among the rebel forces, covered constantly in the North’s newspapers.

Charles P. Stone (1824-1887)

Grant’s capture of Fort Henry will soon be followed up by reports on the pivotal capture of Fort Donelson on February 16. These last two successes of his campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee definitively captured both states for the Union, and also earned Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.”

Fresh Gossip of Books, Authors, Art, and Artists: An anonymous columnist relates the latest in titles ready to be released—as soon as the War dies down. The author says some famous authors are set to release both heavily-anticipated sequels and new books, and even reveals some plot points and details about a few of them.

Augusta Jane Evans, the controversial Southern writer, is one such author.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909)

Her novel Beulah became popular during the Civil War, and this article hints at the release of her next book, Macaria, but also questions Evans’ character. The article aligns “true womanhood” with being a “good Union woman,” but also concedes that as long as Evans stands behind her beliefs and

draws a line between her northern friends and the wicked “invaders,”

she remains a respectable woman and writer.

On Emancipation. Various columns this week focus on “The Emancipation Question” from different viewpoints. “Emancipation and its Effects” is the last of these articles written by a “gentleman from the eastern part of Massachusetts” who will publish all his columns in pamphlet form. It summarizes the abolitionist argument, stating that the North has much more to gain than lose by emancipating all slaves in the Confederacy, and that–contrary to popular belief of the time—freed people of color are harmless, capable, and ready to take on freedom.

“A Promiscuous Rampage” by a few anonymous writers attacks the government for being too forgiving to the Confederate states and border states, and for not aiming to completely subjugate the South and abolish slavery in every part of the country before declaring a restored Union—if there could ever be one.

“Taking Care of the ‘Contraband’” gives some updates on how the North aims to help freed slaves who come from the South. Some states have constructed living spaces with schools and churches; instructions on how to donate clothing are at the end of the column.

A strange three sentence long column appears on the corner of page 2, describing what Ralph Waldo Emerson thinks of the war. With no author or title, we cannot be sure who wrote it.

Atlantic Monthly, February 15, 1862:
Battle Hymn of the Republic.Julia Ward Howe’s famous poem-song makes its debut in this month’s Atlantic. The piece raised morale and became wildly popular in the North, and remains an important influence on poetry, song, and pop culture to this day. Originally taken as a patriotic song for the North, it now acts as a general cry of loyalty, whether in the United States or abroad. The “hymn” uses long lines, each stanza containing three 15-syllable lines in iambic rhythm followed by a 6-syllable refrain in a trochaic rhythm, and a very regular rhyme scheme: aaab, cccb, dddb, eeeb. These elements give the impression of a marching army, straight lines and perfect timing.

A poem titled “Snow” paints a vivid picture of a wintry nature scene, specifically focusing on how snow changes the landscape. Likewise, the poem “Midwinter” watches the silent invasion of a snowfall. This poem’s stanzas vary in length and in meter, but all lines are almost consistently octosyllabic, and are in couplet pairs. The subtly varying feet disrupt the normal flow of the piece that the first stanza establishes with the traditional (but still cut short!) iambic tetrameter, as if seasons are slowly shifting and a snowstorm moves in to take over from warm fall weather.

“At Port Royal” by John Greenleaf Whittier speaks in the voice of “the Negro Boatmen,” glorifying the black population soon to unite and rise to freedom, as “De Lord” intended. Last week, we highlighted this poem, reprinted in the Hampshire Gazette, as an example of the ballad measure. The use of black vernacular by a white author plays into “the Emancipation Question”–Whittier was an outspoken abolitionist and used poetry to advocate for the cause. As discussed last week, this poem uses extremely regular and traditional metric forms: 12 quatrains, with abab rhyme schemes in each stanza, and a refrain. Metrically, the poem is very similar to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Such a stately meter used with black vernacular language reinforces what the poem aims to do: elevate the black speaker, his cause of freedom, his personhood, to show that emancipation is not only possible but the only moral way to proceed.

A final poem titled “Ease of Work” is about the struggle all authors feel in living up to their best work, even when what they produce surpasses the expectations of their readers.

Articles on Italian landscape art and natural history also appear this month. Dickinson may have had some interest in them, because the natural sciences were considered appropriate for women, and as a child, she worked on multiple herbariums like many other young girls at the time.

“Samuel Bowles and Power”

One of Emily Dickinson’s main correspondents during this period was  Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

Samuel Bowles (1826-1878)

Dickinson wrote a cluster of letters to Bowles, which Thomas Johnson dates to “early 1862.” Alfred Habegger, in My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, dates them to late 1861, and Jay Leyda, in The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, dates each of them sporadically, and also adds Letter 229, which the other scholars date to February 1861. For simplicity’s sake, and to explore the relationship between Dickinson and Bowles in one place, we present all the letters in a group here.

In Letter 249 Dickinson apologizes for “amazing” Bowles’ “kindness,” perhaps meaning she overstepped a boundary in a previous interaction or correspondence. This letter also contains a poem:

[Sh]ould you but fail
[at] – Sea -
[In] sight of me -
[Or] doomed lie -
[Ne]xt Sun – to die -
[O]r rap – at Paradise -
unheard -
I’d harass God
until he let [you]
Emily.    (F275A)

Bowles traveled by ship to Europe, and Dickinson wishes him well in this letter. The “you” in the poem is evidently very important to the speaker, as she would “harass God” to give her friend eternal peace should his ship go down.

Letter 250 contains a version of “Title divine – is mine!” a poem Dickinson also sent to Susan Dickinson in a much more contained form around 1865. After the poem in the letter to Bowles, Dickinson writes:

Here's – what I had to "tell you" -
You will tell no other? Honor – is it's
own pawn -

As Bowles was the publisher and editor of the Springfield Republican, perhaps the request, “you will tell no other?” asks Bowles to promise not to publish the poem without her consent, as some of her poems were during her life. The phrase,“Honor – is it’s own pawn -,” also concludes Dickinson’s first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson (L260), again following a line that asks him not to “betray” her.

Letter 251 also includes a poem, “Through the strait pass of suffering” (F187).

Through the strait pass
of suffering -
The Martyrs – even – trod.
Their feet – opon Temptation -
Their faces – opon God -
A stately – shriven -
Company -
Convulsion – playing round -
Harmless – as streaks
of meteor -
Opon a Planet's Bond -
Their faith -
the everlasting troth -
Their expectation – fair -
The Needle – to the North
Degree -
Wades – so – thro' polar Air!

The letter preceding the poem seems to be an introduction to it:

If you doubted my Snow – for a moment – you never will – again – I know -
Because I could not say it – I fixed it in the Verse – for you to read – when your thought wavers, for such a foot as mine -

Bowles might have reacted negatively to another poem Dickinson sent to him, and said as much. In response, Dickinson tries to convince him never to “doubt her Snow – for a moment.” The “feet” here also refer to the poetic foot, and Dickinson uses snow and whiteness as a symbol of poetics in other places as well, most relevantly in “Publication – is the Auction” (F788, J709) when the speaker criticizes the publication process as a “foul” thing, one that renders poets as sellouts, something in which the speaker would rather not “invest – Our Snow -”.

Letter 252 thanks Bowles for his gracious understanding, and wishes that he could come to Amherst for a visit that very day. It also encloses another poem about emotional distress:

“Speech” – is a prank
of Parliament -
“Tears” – a trick of
the nerve -
But the Heart with
the heaviest freight
on -
Does'nt – always – move -
Emily.    (F193A)

This poem may be an exploration of the numbness Dickinson refers to in relation to the “terror” she experienced in September of 1861, the exact nature of which is unknown. Bowles was one of her correspondents to hear about it and provide support, which may be the reason for sending such a grateful letter to him and confiding her feelings about power and entitlement to him. 

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Eliot Cardinaux

The word entitle — with its (timely up-)rooting as a term used in gender-, class-, and race-studies, relations, and activism — causes such tremors in the foundations of Western thinking at present in history that I found myself hesitant in writing a reflection on it this week for White Heat. Emily Dickinson’s use of the word seems to be one of meta-positivity, a sort of anointed power vested in the “entitled” provident, that must be respected, along with a self-awareness of the dangers attached to power, generally, that we might see quite readily on the surface of Shakespeare, for one, in his tragedies of royalty.

It seems, however, inversely, to be quite subversive in its seduction, inviting a sort of meta-ironic image of an evil, caught in its own net, as say Baudelaire might have put it, as a flâneur and poet living in Paris around the same time. As a verb of endowment, opening towards an invitation of another’s entitlement, as viewed in the political context that it receives today — seems rather than a “knighting,” or even a “crowning” — to be inviting no less (even more) of a sovereign position whose danger lies in a fall towards tyranny, and to those in a position of power and authority, who would likewise abuse it.

It is in fact, rather than purely a seductive word, also a sobering one.


That church’s space —
is quiet that lonely thing
that sings over morning,

a dusty light fluorescence.

In liminal loneliness, life —
is like some wooden door,
around whom blind corners

turn — on its hinges; to those

who have not yet known it —
a practiced goodbye — are learning it
indeed — that in hymns, it is — already —

procreating endlessly, along tomorrow.


Bio: Eliot Cardinaux is a pianist and poet. He is the founder of The Bodily Press through which he has released the works of others, as well as several of his own chapbooks, including, most recently, Mother of Two. His first album as a leader, American Thicket, was released in 2016 on Loyal Label. His poetry has been featured in Caliban Online, Big Big Wednesday, Hollow, and Bloodroot Literary Magazine. Cardinaux performs and records regularly around the East Coast and in Europe. His latest musical project, Sweet Beyond Witness, is an album of solo piano compositions and spoken word with accompanying writings and film, slated for release in 2018.


Atlantic Monthly, February 15, 1862
Springfield Republican, February 15, 1862

Johnson, Thomas H. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.

Leyda, Jay. The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson. Archon Books, 1970.

Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. The Modern Library, 2002.


Week of January 22-28: Fascicle 12

Dickinson chose to self-publish fascicles, booklets filled with hundreds of poems and variants, to avoid the pitfalls of the publishing industry. Upon her death, the fascicles were dismantled by her editors and then, in 1981, painstakingly pieced back together. This week, we explore what role the context of the fascicles plays in reading Dickinson’s poems by looking at Fascicle 12.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Madeline Killen

Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf
Emily Dickinson by Jedi Noordegraaf

Book-Making: Fascicle 12

Emily Dickinson was ambivalent about the publishing industry of her time, to say the least. She was aware of the gendered conventions and limitations placed on women writers and thought her poetry would not be conveyed accurately in print. The editorializing of her work both during and after her lifetime shows she was right. A Dickinson poem is hard to capture in a single traditionally printed manuscript or the sea of print and columns that was a mid-nineteenth-century newspaper page. Many of her friends urged her to publish her work, and editors approached her. The ten poems published during her lifetime appeared without her permission or supervision and often caused her consternation.

Instead, Dickinson chose a form of self-publication that allowed her to edit on her own terms and produce multiple fair copies and versions of one poem on a single sheet. She did this by including variants of words and phrases on the fair copies, often indicated by a small cross in the text next to the word with the variants in a list at the bottom or on the sides. The variants thus become a part of the poem, which itself becomes dynamic and performative. From 1858 to around 1864, Dickinson hand sewed the pages together, creating little booklets her first editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, called fascicles, which contained hundreds of her poems and thousands of variants.

A Dickinson Fascicle

Dickinson produced forty fascicles (that we know of). She never labeled them or the poems in them, or gave them numbers or titles. When they were discovered after her death, her editors immediately took them apart; now, multiple reconstructions of the fascicles exist, not all agreeing. In 1981, Ralph Franklin undertook a painstaking re-assemblage (based in part on the direction the needle went into the paper!) and printed the fascicles in manuscript, which is the only way we have of reading Dickinson as she presented herself. In an important study from 1992, Sharon Cameron argues that reading Dickinson's poems in the fascicles substantially changes our understanding of her work. The inscrutable, difficult single lyric poem stands in a rich and complex, perhaps, more comprehensible context.  In 2016, Cristanne Miller published a reading edition based on the fascicles titled Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them.

In addition to disagreement over how the sheets go together, there is also lively debate on why the sheets go together – what did Dickinson intend by grouping these specific poems and in that specific order? How does the context of a fascicle inform the reading of her poetry? Why do some poems appear in multiple fascicles? How do the fascicles relate to each other? Some scholars, like Franklin, view the fascicles as merely a way for Dickinson to organize her poems, part of “her workshop” in a period of immense productivity. Others see them as poetic sequences with a consistent narrative or organizations of complex relationships. Cameron goes further, arguing that they represent, as the title of her study pithily puts it, Dickinson Choosing Not Choosing. That is, they illustrate Dickinson’s self-conscious playfulness and her resistance to closure or fixity. We thought it important to explore one of the first fascicles Dickinson put together in early 1862, Fascicle 12.

“Life in Washington. Through the Spectacles of a Lady”


Short news articles appeared this week on the history of French emancipation (presumably to apply to Civil War tactics and the lively emancipation debate in the North), and on the “Rejuvenation of Spain,” referring to the country’s reinvigorated military and economic power at the outset of the Second French Intervention in Mexico, when Spain joined with France and Britain to forcibly collect debts from Mexico after the country declared a suspension of loan payments to foreign creditors.


Victory, with a teeming sense of urgency and anxiety, color this week’s affairs. The Springfield Republican’s “Review of the Week” describes how a “great victory crowns the new campaign,” referring to a battle in Kentucky where the Union obliterated a Confederate camp, seized some supplies, and pushed the enemy into retreat. The Hampshire Gazette contains the full report from Washington, and both papers pulled some quotations from Southern newspapers to show the past few weeks’ effect on Confederate morale. Numerous strong Union victories put a damper on things, and The  Republican concludes that the only hope the “rebels” have is not to lose the whole war very badly. The “educated Southern men” are said to “rebel against the rebels,” and to think that the constant fighting is now pointless.

Also in the Springfield Republican, lengthy war preparation reports from states in New England follow some important upheavals in the North. On January 27, President Lincoln ordered all land and naval troops to advance southward by February 22 (George Washington’s birthday) to avoid Major General McClellan’s vastly unpopular waiting game war tactics. Lincoln also appointed Edwin Stanton as new Secretary of War, replacing Simon Cameron after allegations of corruption surfaced. The Hampshire Gazette chronicles an interview with Lincoln about this cabinet change, to which he replied his cabinet now feels more “cohesive.”

Two op-eds stand out in this week of taxation complaints: one about the unchanging and ever-similar “American Society” of both the North and the South, and one entitled “Life in Washington. Through the Spectacles of a Lady.” An anonymous upper class woman tells of her trip to the Senate to hear Charles Sumner’s speech on the Trent Affair,

Lithograph of Preston Brooks' 1856 attack on Sumner

including the sights of Washington, the distinguished socialites present (including other famous women), the politics discussed and derived from the experience, and the conclusions of the speech. The author makes a point to talk to the reader directly, her tone of voice and astute observations about Washington revealing that a woman, too, can not only engage in public political life but also form her own opinions on the happenings in Washington.

“A State of Constant Flux”

No letters are definitively linked to this week, but then we don’t know exactly when Dickinson wrote most of her letters. Over the next two weeks, Dickinson will pen multiple letters to Samuel Bowles, who is preparing to travel to Europe for his health. Some of these letters included poems, both old and brand new.

Recreated fascicles, Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst

Another task that occupied part of Dickinson’s time was the production of her fascicles, and we focus this week on Fascicle 12. Cristanne Miller dates its sheets from early 1861 all the way to April 1862, and probably later than that. As is clear from the widely varied dates of different sheets, Dickinson was in a state of constant flux and revision with her fascicles, and frequently edited them by taking poems out or putting poems in, editing words and adding alternate choices, and probably re-sewing them together as well.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Madeline Killen

Believe it or not, I made it to age 18 and through an entire American public school education without reading an Emily Dickinson poem. The “Emily Dickinson” card in my mental rolodex had a couple of bullet points — recluse, apparently couldn’t stop for death — but was otherwise blank. Whether related to my Dickinson ignorance or not, I’d also never developed a particular affinity for poetry, choosing the less fair house of prose any day. I disliked that poetry so often felt like a locked chest with one little gem hidden inside; I wasn’t interested in searching for the key to a form that was so eager to resist me.

Yet somehow, as my undergraduate career comes to a close, I find myself writing a senior honors thesis on one of the most interpretation-resistant poets imaginable. In an ironic turn of events, it’s Dickinson’s seeming inaccessibility that makes me love her poetry as much as I do. She’s not inaccessible, she’s impossible; trying to decipher the core meaning of any one of her poems is a completely futile exercise, simply because there isn’t one. Rather than being infuriating, that’s liberating — Dickinson poems change depending on the angle you look at them from, like the smooth side of a seashell in the sunlight. Nowhere is this more striking than in her fascicles, where Dickinson’s choices of order and proximity cause you to lose your grasp on what you believe she’s writing about the moment that you start to feel confident about it.

Poet and visual artist Jen Bervin's composite renderings of Dickinson’s seldom-seen editing marks and word variants

When Fascicle 12 starts with “I taste a liquor never brewed -,” I see a Dickinson in love; can any phrase describe a lover struck by the “extasy” of their reciprocated feelings like “Inebriate of air –”? This leads me to a single reading of the brutal drop in mood from the fascicle’s first poem to the later “I got so I could hear his name -” — a broken heart trying to mend.

I got so I could stir the Box -
In which his letters grew
Without that forcing, in my breath -
As Staples – driven through -

Can any Dickinson reader envision anything now besides Dickinson shifting through her correspondence with Master? But this is the brilliance of Dickinson’s fascicles — “A single Screw of Flesh” depicts a tortured relationship with a “Deity” and casts the preceding poem in a different light. Could the Box in which his letters grew be a Bible? Are we watching Dickinson fall from faith or fall out of love? Both, and neither, and who knows, and what does it matter? We dwell in possibility now.

Bio: Madeline is a member of the Dartmouth class of 2018, where she completed an English honors thesis, supervised by Ivy Schweitzer, that focuses on Dickinson's Fascicle 18. An English major and an Italian minor, she took “The New Dickinson: After the Digital Turn” seminar, which inspired her thesis topic, in Winter 2017. A chapter of that thesis on the variants of "Bliss" won the award for best undergraduate essay on Dickinson from the Emily Dickinson International Society in 2018.


Cameron, Sharon. Choosing Not Choosing: Dickinson’s Fascicles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Dickinson, Emily. Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them. Ed. Cristanne Miller. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016.

Dickinson, Emily. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson. 2 vols. Ed. Ralph Franklin.  Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981.

Heginbotham, Eleanor Elson. “Fascicles.” An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia. Ed. Jane Donahue Eberwein. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, 1998: 108-09.

Hampshire Gazette, Volume 76, Issue 26. January 28, 1862.

“January 27: This Day In History.”

Springfield Republican, Volume 80, Issue 4. January 25, 1862.



January 8-14, 1862: The “Azarian School”

Previous generations regarded Dickinson as either unique and, thus, untouched by the literary trends of her time, or so ahead of her moment as to be uninfluenced by it. This week, we focus on a contemporary literary style of 1850s-60s, the “Azarian School,” which delighted in fanciful matters of the soul and ecstasy. Dickinson read and engaged with this literature—and then perhaps used it herself.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Victoria Corwin

War, Death, and Influence

Previous generations regarded Dickinson either as sui generis–that is, unique and thus untouched by the literary trends of her time, or so ahead of her moment as to be uninfluenced by it. Current scholars, such as Cristianne Miller, have laid these views to rest, in studies like her Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century (2012). To explore Dickinson's literary debts, our focus this week is on the “Azarian School,” a term coined by the writer Henry James to describe the work of Harriet E. Prescott Spofford and Rose Terry Cooke, two writers from New England contemporary with Dickinson. The school's name derives from the title of Spofford’s novel Azarian: An Episode published in 1864. It is important at the outset to show how Dickinson read, absorbed and adapted the literary techniques of other writers, in this case, the prose works of New England women. We also want to frame this year, 1862, with an exploration of a literary style that influenced some of Dickinson's most incendiary poetry.

We follow the lead of David Cody’s 2010 essay, “‘When one’s soul’s at a white heat’: Dickinson and the ‘Azarian School.” Cody argues that several well-known poems Dickinson wrote in 1862 were directly influenced by the prose works of Spofford and Cooke.

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Harriet Prescott Spofford

As he tells it, James’s review of the “school” was “scathing,” accusing Spofford

of a long list of literary crimes, including a tendency to indulge in ‘fine writing,’ and ‘almost morbid love of the picturesque,’ an emphasis on ‘clever conceits’ and the ‘superficial picturesque’ at the expense of ‘true dramatic exposition, a ‘habitual intensity’ of style, and an ‘unbridled fancy.’

Many readers at the time felt Spofford walked “a fine line between

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Rose Terry Cooke

permissible daring and a reckless disregard of conventional morality.” In short, this style was the antithesis of the realist school, soon to come into popularity with the ascendancy of William Dean Howells to the editorship of the Atlantic Monthly.

We leave it to you to decide whether Dickinson was a secret disciple of the Azarian School, which, according to Cody, was characterized by intoxication and ravishment 

by perfumes; sunsets; gems; diseases physical, psychological, and spiritual; fugues and symphonies; hurricanes; and panthers.

Barton Levi St. Armand argues that Spofford’s story, “The Amber Gods,” inspired Dickinson

to dare the technique of describing the moment of death from the dying person’s point of view.

The protagonists in Azarian works are almost always heroines, and matters of the soul and ecstasy are important topics. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a big fan, being a friend and mentor of Spofford and Cooke as well as Dickinson, writing a supportive review of Spofford’s novel Azarian, and mentioning her to Dickinson in at least one letter. See L261 in which Dickinson responded,

I read Miss Prescott’s ‘Circumstance,’ but it followed me, in the Dark – so I avoided her –.

“War As An Educator”

This week was rather uneventful, as the Civil War heated toward its boiling point, and President Abraham Lincoln began sending orders to General McClellan to take offensive action against the Confederacy. There were small victories for the Union, on January 8th at the battle of Roan’s Tan Yard under Major W.M.G. Torrence and on January 10th at the battle of Middle Creek under Col. James Garfield.

The January edition of The Atlantic Monthly included an essay on “Methods of Study in Natural History.” It prominently featured Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist credited with founding the practice of botany. Dickinson was a passionate botanist, as evidenced by the herbarium, a collection of pressed and identified local flowers and plants, she created in 1844 as a teenager.


The January edition of Harper’s magazine opened with a lengthy travel narrative titled “The Franconian Switzerland,” which discusses European geography and offers illustrations of the Castle of Goessweinstein. The second article, “History of the United States Navy,” looked back to 1775 for a historical context that would have appealed to readers during the Civil War. Excerpted and mostly anonymous poems—one simply titled “Frost”—and part of a serial novel, Orley Farm, by Anthony Trollope, were also included. A biographical essay on Mehetabel Wesley illustrates a common attitude towards women poets. The essay focused on her beauty and morals: “Nature, which seldom grants the double favor, richly endowed her both in body and mind,” and added that her poetry is full of “silly conceits.” The month’s edition ended with a two-page spread titled “Fashions for January” with illustrations of two women, one in an evening dress in the other in a walking robe.

The January 11th edition of the Springfield Republican included a column titled “War as an Educator” that observed: “the present war is doing, and is to do, a great work in the education of the American people,” and criticized the inefficacy of party antagonism and the dangers of men attracted to power. It called into question the idea that the United States is the “greatest nation on the face of the earth,” and warned of waiting to take action about incipient rebellion. On the other hand, the writer insisted that the war will make that generation of Americans “superior to any generation that America has raised since the revolution” due to rigorous training, discipline, and courage. Another column brought good news, the release of two hundred forty Union prisoners from Richmond.


In a time marked with violence and death, the Springfield Republican  included a brief paragraph condemning the death penalty, a debate that might have influenced Dickinson poems like “The Doomed – regard the Sunrise” (F298, J294), featured last week.

Comment on the death penalty, included in The Springfield Republican on January 11, 1862.


“The Value of a Close Friend”

Dickinson’s reading in the Springfield Republican, as well as her personal and literary relationship with its editor-in-chief, Samuel Bowles, had a large influence on her life and writing. On around January 11, 1862, Dickinson wrote to  Bowles, who was in New York, planning to sail to Europe:

Dear Friend, — Are you willing? I am so far from land. To offer you the cup, it might some Sabbath come my turn. Of wine how solemn full! … While you are sick, we—are homesick. Do you look out to-night? The moon rides like a girl through a topaz town. I don’t think we shall ever be merry again—you are ill so long. When did the dark happen? I skipped a page to-night, because I come so often, no, I might have tired you. That page is fullest, though… When you tire with pain, to know that eyes would cloud, in Amherst—might that comfort, some?  (L247)

At the end of the letter, Dickinson included, “We never forget Mary,” referring to Bowles’s wife. It is clear from the letter that Dickinson was deeply concerned with Bowles’s well-being, and that his illness had taken a toll on her. This passage also contains a frequent Dickinson trope: that the skipped and blank page, or what is renounced, “is the fullest.” It appears as an image in the poem, “Going to them/her/him! Happy letter!” (F277), addressed to a personified letter Dickinson composed in early January of this year. The poem exists in three versions with three different pronouns (depending on the recipient), and contains this line, where the speaker charges the letter:

Tell Them/Her/Him – the page I never wrote.

Samuel Bowles, editor of The Springfield Republican and a close friend of Dickinson's.
Samuel Bowles

What was the darkness that Dickinson refers to in her letter to Bowles? Richard Sewall, in his biography, The Life of Emily Dickinson, comments about her letters that

at times one wonders whether the recipients themselves may not at some points have been almost as puzzled as we are.

Though this is true of many of Dickinson’s letters, as we will see with the “the Third Master Letter” next week, it is especially true of her correspondence with Bowles. As Sewall points out, this correspondence was important because it punctuated a time of “extraordinary stress and inner turmoil.”

Bowles’s correspondence and editorship of the Springfield Republican likely provided Dickinson with a way to look outward at the world while she was turning inward during this period. What’s more, Bowles often published women writers in the pages of the Republican, including, according to Sewall, women of “spirit and brains” such as

Colette Loomis [“a pretty little aunt of mine” according to what Dickinson wrote in a letter], Lizzie Lincoln of Hinsdale, N.H., Luella Clarke, Ellen P. Champion, and Fannie Fern (Sarah Willis Parton).

As for his sickness, Bowles had traveled to Amherst in the winter of 1861 and became afflicted with “a chill and severe sciatica that sent him to Dr. Denniston’s in Northampton that fall.” As he grew ill, Dickinson became increasingly aware that her worldly, literary, and affectionate friend might not be around forever.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum


Victoria Corwin

I started my Dickinson studies as many do: in a high school classroom, with an old, generic anthology sprawled open to “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -,” pressed to question how a person who never left her own room could produce such striking imagery of the outside world. My teacher fed me the mythological Dickinson, the woman in white, and I remember imagining the poet as a shy, stunted personality concerned with nature and childish dreams who talked to herself in her poetry. Years later, I regard her as one of the most advanced writers I’ve ever read.

The disconnect between what many of us read in traditional published collections and what Dickinson actually wrote intrigues me. This week’s poems deliver some of the most famous lines in her body of work that I’m sure many high school students have memorized, but memorization takes something away from the character of the lines that can only be revealed through the visual picture of the manuscript.

For example, Dickinson’s big swooping handwriting forces line breaks and enjambments that publishers ignore when printing poetry. Pick any poem from this week and notice that the words spill over to a second line. It’s especially noticeable in “After great pain, a formal / feeling comes -,” which stood out to me the most in this set, partly because I love the ending line: “First – Chill – then Stupor – then / the letting go -”

The emotion pulses through this poem; the horrible metric “Feet” that “mechanically” “go round” sound like a “formal” march to death when you read it in orderly printed lines. It sounds unstoppable, but the first time I saw the manuscript of this poem, the breaks made me hold my breath. You feel the Chill and Stupor as the dash pauses force you to slow down your reading, like slowly freezing. Then, on a completely different line that physically separates–

the letting go.

It’s funny, enjambment is supposed to keep poetry flowing, but in this case, the reader trips over the breaks and truly sees them as breaks, because of the disjointed subject matter and because of the striking spaces left over after the concluding words. The words sit with you, mimicking the formal feeling and ponderous tone of the poem. The breaks intensify everything.

Not to mention that Dickinson’s handwriting lends its character to each of her poems. The shape of her words colors the mood of her poems, generating beauty or solemnity or finality with all her different letter forms. For example, the word “impatient” looks absolutely beautiful in “Dare you see a Soul / at the White Heat?”—no impatient reader would rush past individual words here!

It’s a completely different experience reading the manuscripts, one that I am glad to have discovered so early in my studies. It took a few months of practice to decipher Dickinson’s handwriting, but the payoff is worth thousands of (printed) words.

Bio: Victoria Corwin is a Dartmouth class of '19 (a junior, to the uninitiated), a student of English and Classical Archaeology, a member of "The New Dickinson: After the Digital Turn" course in Fall 2017, and a member of the "White Heat" team.



Cody, David. “”When one’s soul’s at a white heat”: Dickinson and the “Azarian School”.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 19 no. 1, 2010, pp. 30-59. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/edj.0.0217


The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 9, Issue 51. January 1862.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 140. January 1862.

Springfield Republican, Volume 89, Issue 2. January 11, 1862.


Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson, 1974, 281.