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Finnerty, Páraic: "'It does not mean me, but a supposed person': Browning, Dickinson and the Dramatic Lyric"

“It does not mean me, but a supposed person”:
Browning, Dickinson and the Dramatic Lyric

Páraic Finnerty, University of Portsmouth

Although scholars have explored the importance of the works of Keats and Barrett Browning to Dickinson, very little research exists on the implications of her admiration for Robert Browning. Within the context of Browning’s nineteenth-century American reception, this paper considers the profound and seminal effect this writer had on Dickinson’s vocation as a poet and her understanding of poetry. Focusing in particular on Dickinson’s reading and response to Browning’s Men and Women (1855), Finnerty explores connections between Browning’s dramatic lyrics and Dickinson’s creation of dramatic speakers and situations. Developing earlier scholarship on Dickinson’s use of personae and the influence of drama and performance on her works, his paper argues that she found in Browning’s poetry distancing strategies that complicated the notion of the lyric as a form of personal address and/ or biographical revelation. Rather than granting the reader access to the poet’s interiority or corporeal presence, Dickinson, following Browning, created substitute figures, who speak in a confidential, intimate manner about particular events and incidents. Going beyond Browning’s innovation, Dickinson further impersonalizes the personal lyric form by reducing her speakers to distorted and fragmented voices that speak at the moment of their own dissolution and disintegration.