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Barrett, Faith: "'If I can stop one heart from breaking': the Dramatic Voice in Phoebe Cary and Emily Dickinson"

“If I can stop one heart from breaking”:
the Dramatic Voice in Phoebe Cary and Emily Dickinson

Faith Barrett, Duquesne University

Like Phoebe Cary, Dickinson is a poet who displays a remarkable tonal range and who interrogates with urgency the social construct of domestic femininity. Also as with Cary, the solitary female sufferer is a central figure in Dickinson’s work. Barrett’s paper will reexamine the poles of sentiment and parody in Cary’s collection in order to consider the relationship between sentiment, parody, and dramatic voice in Dickinson’s verse. By putting Dickinson’s speakers in conversation with Cary’s, Barrett’s aim is to offer a more nuanced account of the spectrum of tonal positions that both these poets use. Late twentieth-century readers of Dickinson’s poetry have tended to privilege poems that foreground female suffering as the result of the patriarchal oppression of women; such readers have also tended to read the sentimental stances in Dickinson’s work as undercut by irony or ambivalence. Barrett suggests that we’ve been misreading as ironic some arguments in Dickinson that are both sentimental and sincere. Reading the two poets comparatively, Barrett will argue that the binary opposition between “sentiment” and “irony” which has shaped our critical approaches to both poets is too limiting. She will then go on to suggest some of the ways in which we might develop a more nuanced critical vocabulary for approaching this same issue in other nineteenth-century women poets’ work.