Emily Dickinson's Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry

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"A full, dramatic, and sympathetic picture. . . . It is both rare and refreshing to see a literary critic write not only with persuasive authority, but also with such style and felicity of phrase."--Barton L. St. Armand, Brown University

In this original contribution to Dickinson biography and criticism, James Guthrie demonstrates how the poet's optical disease--strabismus, a deviation of the cornea--directly affected her subject matter, her poetic method, and indeed her sense ...

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Overview

"A full, dramatic, and sympathetic picture. . . . It is both rare and refreshing to see a literary critic write not only with persuasive authority, but also with such style and felicity of phrase."--Barton L. St. Armand, Brown University

In this original contribution to Dickinson biography and criticism, James Guthrie demonstrates how the poet's optical disease--strabismus, a deviation of the cornea--directly affected her subject matter, her poetic method, and indeed her sense of her own identity.
 Dickinson's illness compelled her to remain indoors with her eyes heavily bandaged for months at a time, especially during the summer.  Guthrie maintains that these extended periods of sensory deprivation caused her to seek solace in writing and to convert her poems into replacements for her injured eyes.  Many poems discuss her physical pain; many mention such topics as optics, astronomy, light, or the sun; some suggest that she blamed God for what had happened to her.  These poems permitted her, Guthrie says, to use her personal experience as a springboard for discussing philosophical and religious matters and led her, finally, to conceive a system of metapoetics in which she served as translator or mediator between God's will and human experience.
 Guthrie argues that reading the poems in an overtly biographical context deepens their complexity and profundity.  Dickinson emerges from this study as an accomplished artist and an eminently sane and stable woman whose patience and optimism were sorely tested by severe, chronic illness.

James R. Guthrie, associate professor of English at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, is the author of articles in The Midwest Quarterly, The Explicator, and The Emily Dickinson Journal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813015491
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Lexile: 1700L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.91 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 "Measuring the Sun": Perception, Punishment, and the Rivalrous Imagination 7
2 Compound Vision: The Poet as Astronomer 32
3 The "Scientist of Faith": Overcoming the Obstacles to Perception 52
4 Poetry as Place: Heaven, Ill/locality, and Continents of Light 79
5 The "Consent of Language": Symbolism in Nature, Mathematics, and the Sacrament 111
6 "A Tumultuous Privacy of Storm": Snow, Publication, and the Problem of Romantic Egotism 136
7 A Charter for Heaven on Earth: Law, Property, and Provincialism in Dickinson's Poems and Letters to Judge Otis Phillips Lord 154
Conclusion 171
Notes 177
Works Cited 197
Poems Cited 203
Index 205
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