Remapping Dickinson and Periodical Studies

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2004-04-27

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My dissertation addresses Emily Dickinson's neglected periodical poems of the 1890s. In examining these poems, it 1) updates and recasts the narrative of Dickinson's posthumous production and 2) challenges long-held assumptions about periodical culture that have contributed to that culture's neglect. Since circulation figures of the periodicals easily exceeded sales figures for Dickinson books in the 1890s and some poems remained uncollected until almost the mid-twentieth century, these poems are vital for understanding the reception and publishing history of Dickinson's poetry. Further, the movement beyond authorial intention in textual studies encourages us to look at "unsanctioned" texts like Dickinson's periodical poems. My project unseats the book-centered nature of production and reception narratives and challenges larger perceptions about the presentation and distribution of American poetry in the nineteenth century, foregrounding the central role periodicals played in fostering and recording readers' desire for the genre.

This project initially examines how Dickinson's periodical texts worked in concert with the marketing of the four Dickinson books published in the 1890s: POEMS (1890), POEMS (1891), LETTERS (1894), and POEMS (1896). In such places as the children's magazine ST. NICHOLAS, the Dickinson editorial team of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd sought out broader markets and worked to create an image of the poet that would increase the public's appetite for her. The periodicals, however, served as more than mere "handmaidens" to the books. My project employs archival research to examine how Higginson and Todd's editorial production of Dickinson after the author's death clashed with similar efforts in SCRIBNER'S MAGAZINE and the INDEPENDENT by Susan Dickinson (Dickinson's sister-in-law), an editor whose work has been ignored in part because her successes were realized solely in periodicals. But Dickinson's publication record also reveals that periodicals were not a transparent medium for the expression of editorial intention. The reader-based rejection of Dickinson in the CHRISTIAN REGISTER reveals the active role readers played in periodical culture. And in the YOUTH'S COMPANION, an early media giant, the concerns of a sizable and powerful institution trumped those of any author or author-based editor.

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