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Recurring Women

Danny Karlin: Emily Dickinson, 24 August 2000

The Poems of Emily DickinsonVariorum Edition 
edited by R.W. Franklin.
Harvard, 1654 pp., £83.50, October 1998, 9780674676220
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The Poems of Emily DickinsonReading Edition 
edited by R.W. Franklin.
Harvard, 692 pp., £19.95, September 1999, 0 674 67624 6
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Emily DickinsonMonarch of Perception 
by Domhnall Mitchell.
Massachusetts, 352 pp., £31.95, March 2000, 1 55849 226 7
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... Publication – is the Auction Of the Mind of Man – (#788) Editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry is a problem which continues to vex literary scholars and textual critics; meanwhile the publication, or dissemination, of Dickinson goes on apace. A trivial instance: the giant puppet of the ‘Belle of Amherst’, dressed in that distinctive ghost-white dress, which features in the movie Being John Malkovich ...

Bitchy Little Spinster

Joanne O’Leary: Queens of Amherst, 3 June 2021

After EmilyTwo Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America's Greatest Poet 
by Julie Dobrow.
Norton, 448 pp., £13.99, January 2020, 978 0 393 35749 3
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... Mabel Loomis Todd. When she’s remembered at all, it’s as a homewrecker: the vamp who seduced Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, 27 years her senior, and destroyed his marriage to Susan Gilbert, Emily’s closest confidante. Like any good seductress, Todd was an opportunist. She exploited Austin’s role as the ...

Out of the closet

Tom Paulin, 29 October 1987

Emily Dickinson 
by Helen McNeil.
Virago, 208 pp., £3.50, April 1986, 0 86068 619 1
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Emily DickinsonLooking to Canaan 
by John Robinson.
Faber, 191 pp., £3.95, August 1986, 0 571 13943 4
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Emily DickinsonA Poet’s Grammar 
by Christanne Miller.
Harvard, 212 pp., £15.95, July 1987, 0 674 25035 4
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Emily DickinsonThe Poet on the Second Story 
by Jerome Loving.
Cambridge, 128 pp., £20, April 1987, 0 521 32781 4
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... as value-judgments in critical discourse. As Helen McNeil points out in her centenary study, Emily Dickinson entered the 20th century seeming to have written a series of ‘over-sensitive, coy, rather ill-disciplined poems’. Feminist critics have challenged this sexist view of her writing, and argued that she radically undermines traditional ...


Mark Ford: Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts, 19 June 2014

The Gorgeous Nothings 
by Emily Dickinson.
New Directions, 255 pp., £26.50, October 2013, 978 0 8112 2175 7
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The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping 
by Francis Nenik, translated by Katy Derbyshire.
Readux, 64 pp., £3, October 2013, 978 3 944801 00 1
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... papers then in her possession. The papers were given to Bingham’s mother, Mabel Loomis Todd, by Dickinson’s sister Lavinia. (This is the collection now housed in Amherst.) Dickinson, Bingham explains, wrote on backs of brown-paper bags or of discarded bills, programmes, and invitations; on tiny scraps of stationery ...

Emily v. Mabel

Susan Eilenberg: Emily Dickinson, 30 June 2011

Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Virago, 491 pp., £9.99, April 2011, 978 1 84408 453 1
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DickinsonSelected Poems and Commentaries 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 535 pp., £25.95, September 2010, 978 0 674 04867 6
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... The Brain has Corridors – surpassing Material Place – ‘All men say “What” to me,’ Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. She certainly mystified Higginson. He never entirely overcame his uneasiness about her odd, disjunctive words and bewildering epistolary tones and seven years into their correspondence still ...

Emily’s Electrical Absence

Frances Leviston, 25 January 2018

... hope you may have an electrical absence, as life never loses its startlingness, however assailed. Emily Dickinson, letter to J.K. Chickering, autumn 1882 1. Technologies – are not abrupt – Though Pole-vaults may appear – The lever bends a longer spell Than Morals – in a Fire And clatters off the Bar before It ever clears the way – And ...

Worst When It’s Poetry

Frederick Seidel, 5 May 2016

... I’m Nobody! Who are you? I’m thinking, what would mother do? And what would Kafka if he knew? Emily Dickinson was Nobody, too! I’d say the day looks like there’s nothing new. It’s simply someone the sky is talking to. Sprinklers on Central Park’s Great Lawn are hissing mist, A smell simply too delicious to exist. Sweet, sweet, sweet! You ...

Learning to speak

Gay Clifford, 21 February 1980

Gya/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 485 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7043 2829 1
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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 719 pp., £15.75, October 1980, 0 300 02286 7
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Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes 
by Margaret Dickie Uroff.
Illinois, 235 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 252 00734 4
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Women Writing and Writing about Women 
edited by Mary Jacobus.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 85664 745 4
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... To acquire such knowledge we have to find our own language and make it as exact as possible. When Emily Dickinson wrote of ‘infection in the sentence’, she had in mind both the constraining judicial sentence of masculine language, from which ‘we may inhale Despair’, and the germinating infection by which women may subvert the borrowed syntax of ...

The Divine Miss P.

Elaine Showalter, 11 February 1993

Sex, Art and American Culture 
by Camille Paglia.
Viking, 256 pp., £16.99, March 1993, 0 670 84612 0
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... seized public attention with her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), a sweeping, Strindbergian analysis of culture as the war of the sexes. But what really made her famous were her attacks on feminism and academia, coupled with her paeans to pop culture. Naming names and kicking butt, Paglia quickly ...


Penelope Fitzgerald, 3 December 1981

Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith 
edited by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Virago, 359 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 9780860682172
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... and were told not to sit on a certain chair because it was for the spirit of Michelangelo, or if Emily Dickinson handed you a single flower, you needed time to find out how far the mystification was meant to keep you at a distance, and to give you something to talk about when you got home. Eccentricity can go very well with sincerity, and, in Stevie’s ...

Aromatic Splinters

John Bayley, 7 September 1995

The Poems of John Dryden: Vol. I, 1649-1681; Vol. II, 1682-1685 
edited by Paul Hammond.
Longman, 551 pp., £75, February 1995, 0 582 49213 0
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... Housman thought it impossible to do, except that very occasionally it turned out to be there. Emily Dickinson would not have agreed with that at all. She threw herself into it, as if into a clear river on a hot day. The impression of relief and ecstasy in her first lines and couplets is remarkable, but she rarely keeps things up. She is in good ...

On Pockets

Susannah Clapp, 25 April 2024

... though Carlson explains that contemporaries thought that ‘pocket’ was code for ‘pimp’. Emily Dickinson persuaded her dressmaker to stitch a patch pocket, for pencil and paper, onto her white dresses; some seamstresses tucked a pocket into a bustle. Yet by the end of the 19th century most women were encumbered with bags and umbrellas and bits ...

Character Building

Peter Campbell, 9 June 1994

Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernity 
by Jerome McGann.
Princeton, 196 pp., £25, July 1993, 0 691 06985 9
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Letters from the People 
by Lee Friedlander.
Cape, 96 pp., £75, August 1993, 9780224032957
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Margins and Marginality 
by Evelyn Tribble.
Virginia, 194 pp., $35, December 1993, 0 8139 1472 8
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... handmade books of exemplary jokiness). Unreadability, McGann says, can be a virtue. The poems of Emily Dickinson, unpublished in her lifetime, test editorial practice. McGann’s account of them is an example of his methods. The manuscripts Dickinson left, many gathered in booklets of a few leaves sewn together at one ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Who’s Afraid of the Library of America?, 19 June 2008

... represented. (The omissions smack of rows over royalties and copyright: no Ernest Hemingway, no Emily Dickinson, no Marianne Moore.) Some have even argued that the brief has been stretched too far. Wilson’s canonisation came after those of Charles Brockden Brown, H.P. Lovecraft, James Weldon Johnson, George Kaufman, William Bartram and Theodore ...


Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography 
by Frances Spalding.
Faber, 331 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 571 15207 4
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... knew, or thought I knew, altogether more sensitive and less coy than, say, a comparable one-woman Emily Dickinson ‘show’ which was at one time going the rounds. The only thing shared by Stevie Smith and Glenda Jackson was femaleness, but the actress had the effect of producing a true portrait. The danger in Stevie lies in its emphasis on the ...

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