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Caddell, Jill Spivey: "War’s Oblique Places: Dickinson, Higginson, and the Geographies of Correspondence"

War’s Oblique Places: Dickinson, Higginson, and the Geographies of Correspondence

Jill Spivey Caddell, Cornell University

That Emily Dickinson was a war poet is now an undisputed fact. But we are still working through the poet’s relation to the American Civil War, which famously overlapped with her most prolific years of creativity. This paper provides a reading of Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s account of the posthumous fame of Dickinson and its staging of the circuits of travel generated by the war in order to recover the complex circuits of battle news that existed for Dickinson, Higginson, and others. The war added an affective charge to otherwise affectless places, and in their correspondence, Dickinson and Higginson performed distance and contemplated the resonant places of war, particularly the Sea Islands of South Carolina where Higginson was stationed. When Dickinson writes to Higginson that “war feels to [her] an oblique place,” she condenses the affective disconnection centered upon geographical distances and spatial un-relations that many at home felt toward distant soldiers through the public/private medium of the letter. Building on recent calls to better theorize Dickinson’s correspondence by scholars including Marietta Messmer, I argue that the letters between Dickinson and Higginson, Higginson’s description of their relationship, and Dickinson’s poems each stage a rethinking of the individual’s relation to spaces of unsettlement generated by the Civil War.