Shopping Cart Link

University Press of New England

Sign up for our newsletter

Bookmark and Share
Cart link
Paperback add to cart

For Educators
View cart
Cover image Click for larger image

Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries
Women’s Verse in America, 1820–1885
Elizabeth A. Petrino

1998 • 252 pp. 5 illus. 4 figs. 6 x 9"
Literary Criticism - American / Poetry Criticism / Biography / New England

$26.95 Paperback, 978-0-87451-907-5

While previous works . . . have discussed the generic structure of women’s poetry and the relation between the poets and the patriarchal publishing world, Petrino discusses how Dickinson, rather than being separate... [continued in Reviews below]”—Library Journal

An interdisciplinary examination of the poet, her milieu, and the ways she and her contemporaries freed their work from cultural limitations.

For many years, Emily Dickinson's cryptic verse was viewed as an isolated phenomenon, the poet herself an enigma whose motivations and influences were shrouded in mystery. Eschewing such stereotypes, Elizabeth A. Petrino places the Belle of Amherst within the context of other nineteenth-century women poets and examines the feminist implications of their work. Dickinson and contemporaries like Lydia Sigourney, Louisa May Alcott, and Helen Hunt Jackson developed in their writing a rhetoric of duplicity that enabled them to question conventional values but still maintain the propriety necessary to achieve publication. To demonstrate these strategies, Petrino examines both Dickinson's poetry and a range of "women's" genres, from the child elegy to the discourse of flowers. She also enlists contemporary magazines, unpublished professional correspondence, even gravestone inscriptions and posthumous paintings of children to explain what Petrino calls the most significant fact of Dickinson's literary biography, her decision not to publish. In the end, we see how, "these poets create a kind of cultural palimpsest, writing and rewriting central tropes about death, marriage and motherhood, and the power and function of consolatory verse, barely visible under the erasures of literary history. Set against a new and recently recovered tradition of female verse writing, Dickinson's central place in the canon and her position as a consummate artist are clearly affirmed."

Reviews / Endorsements

“While previous works . . . have discussed the generic structure of women’s poetry and the relation between the poets and the patriarchal publishing world, Petrino discusses how Dickinson, rather than being separate from her contemporaries, actually used the same poetic themes deemed acceptable to women writers but differed in creating ‘a new powerful means of expression within the perscribed limits.’ Dickinson also differed from other female poets in her refusal to allow her work to be published. In addition to an in-depth analysis of the constraints of publication, Petrino also examines the poetic themes and conventions used by Dickinson and her contemporaries, such as mourning and death, floral language, and geographic imagery. Highly recommended for all academic libraries and public libraries with a strong American literature collection.”Library Journal

“Elizabeth Petrino’s book is appearing at just the right time—when there is a gathering interest in nineteenth-century women’s poetry, particularly by so many unknown Americans whose work is being resurrected in a surprising number of recent anthologies. To use Dickinson’s own phrase, we are on the threshold of a ‘new circumference’ of appreciation, as Petrino judiciously scrutinizes a circle of female poets of whom Dickinson herself was all her life a secret partner.”Barton Levi St. Armand

“By stepping outside conventional investigative grids, Petrino makes a fresh and vital contribution to Dickinson studies, women’s studies, American literary history, and cultural analyses of 19th-century American gentility.”Martha Nell Smith, University of Maryland

ELIZABETH A. PETRINO is Assistant Professor of English at Wake Forest University.

Wed, 17 Oct 2018 11:32:00 -0500