Cover image for A vice for voices : reading Emily Dickinson's correspondence
A vice for voices : reading Emily Dickinson's correspondence
Messmer, Marietta.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Amherst, Mass. : University of Massachusetts Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 280 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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PS1541.Z5 M38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Despite her reputation as a reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson wrote more than one thousand letters to the world, engaging in lively epistolary conversations with close to one hundred correspondents. Although these letters have found many avid readers since they were first published in 1894, they have often been viewed as mere background materials or vehicles for the writer's poems. This study offers a reevaluation of their status within Dickinson's canon, arguing for correspondence (rather than poetry) as her central form of expression. Concentrating on Dickinson's exchanges with childhood friends, as well as with Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Elizabeth Holland, Austin Dickinson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and the mysterious Master, Marietta Messmer explores the poet's gradual shift from writing confessional letters to developing her unique vice for voices by creating fictionalized epistolary personae. While radically challenging nineteenth-century letter-writing conventions, these personae also subvert the narrowly circumscribed roles available to women at that time. Messmer shows how Dickinson used this double-voiced mode of correspondence to manipulate and interrogate a vari

Author Notes

Marietta Messmer is assistant professor at the Research Center on the Internationality of National Literatures in Gottingen, Germany.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In her intriguing study of Dickinson's correspondence, Messmer (Research Center on the Internationality of National Literatures) sets the stage for continued reassessment of Dickinson's literary voice. Although numerous critics have evaluated Dickinson's epistolary writing, Messmer approaches the letters from a contemporary feminist-poststructuralist perspective, expanding earlier studies of the multiplicity of Dickinson's narrative voices by exploring Dickinson's representation of self as a larger strategy for engaging in cultural and discursive critiques. She also departs from other studies by reconsidering Dickinson's correspondence as literature, arguing that Dickinson's letters are "her major form of artistic expression" and maintaining that Dickinson's poems and letters must be read together "as two complementary modes of writing." Messmer's study is certain to stir debate, and her research will stand up well against that of other critics of Dickinson's epistolary style. For example, William Schurr (in his edited volume New Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1993) argued unconvincingly that he had discovered "new" poems embedded in the texts of Dickinson's letters; Messmer, on the other hand, posits that Dickinson's epistolary writings are "literary" in their own right, and her meticulous study offers compelling evidence to support her claim. Recommended for all academic libraries, lower-division undergraduate through faculty. D. D. Knight SUNY College at Cortland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Two Centuries of Critical Responses to Dickinson's Lettersp. 1
1. The Context of Nineteenth-Century Epistolary Conventionsp. 27
2. Editing Dickinson's Correspondence, 1894-1999p. 49
3. The "Female" World of Love and Dutyp. 71
4. The "Male" World of Power and Poetryp. 107
5. Manipulating Multiple Voicesp. 141
Conclusion: Dickinson's Letters to the Worldp. 183
Notesp. 195
Works Cited and Consultedp. 241
Index of First Lines of Poemsp. 261
Index of Lettersp. 265
General Indexp. 271