The “flowering” of American literature in the mid-1800s, christened “American Renaissance” by F. O. Matthiessen, has contributed significantly towards the construction of cultural identity that fulfills the vital postcolonial longing of America. Advertently or inadvertently, the name American Renaissance brings into focus the New World’s obsession with the Old, in its inability to resist the temptation of emulation with an Old World epoch—The Renaissance—if in nothing else. Thus the task is accomplished through double appropriation: of the old world (tradition), and of nature.
Although Matthiessen’s original study did not include Dickinson, Dickinson has, in subsequent development, grown to become an essential, key figure “in the age of Emerson and Whitman” that gives unique quality— subtle, complex, opaque—to art and expression of the age. Admittedly, Dickinson is little concerned about the political, ideological or even social matters of the time (not even the slavery issue), and exhibits little or none of the qualities of the Renaissance. Nevertheless, she is historically situated. That is to say the double appropriation of tradition and of nature in such writers as Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman provides and appropriate context to situate her. Thus this course, while focusing on Dickinson, will begin by examining some key texts by these writers so as to better contextualize her.
Students are required to study the assigned texts before they come to class, and active participation is encouraged. A paper, approximately 10 pages in length, is required at the end of the semester.
Bennet, Paula. Emily Dickinson, Woman Poet. Iowa City: Univ. Of Iowa Pr., 1990.
Buell, Lawrence. New England Literary Culture. New York: Cambridge, 1986
____. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Uiv. Press, 1995.
Gilbert, Sandra & Susan Gubar, eds. Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Bloomington, IN. 1979 (pp. 99-150)
Keller, Karl. The Only Kangaroo among the Beauty: Emily Dickinson and America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979.
Loeffelholz, Mary. Dickinson and the Boundaries of Feminist Theory. Urbana & Chicago: Univ. Of Illinois Pr., 1991.
Matthiessen. American Renaissance. New York: Oxford, 1941.
Miller, Cristanne. Emily Dickinson: Apoet’s Grammar. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987.
Pollak, Vivian. Dickinson: the Anxiety of Gender. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984.
Reynolds. Beneath the American Renaissance. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1989
Sewall. The Life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974
Smith, Martha. Rereading Emily Dickinson. Austin: Univ. Of Texas, 1992.
Wolf, Cyhthia G. Emily Dickinson. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1988.
Schedule of Assignments:
Week 1 (2/17): Introduction
Week 2 (2/24): Emerson, “Nature”
Week 3 (3/3): Emerson, “American Scholar,” “Self-Reliance,” “The Poet”
Week 4 (3/10): Thoreau, Walden
Week 5 (3/17): Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government,” “Walking”
Week 6 (3/24): Whitman, Preface (1855)
Week 7 (3/31): Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Week 8 (4/7): Dickinson
Week 9 (4/14): Dickinson
Week 10 (4/21): Dickinson
Week 11 (4/28): Dickinson
Week 12 (5/5): Dickinson
Week 13 (5/12): Dickinson
Week 14 (5/19): Dickinson
Week 15 (5/26): Dickinson
Week 16 (6/2): Dickinson
Week 17 (6/9): Review