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Chaudron, Patricia: "'A Route of Evanescence': Emily Dickinson’s New England Moment of Modernity in the 1890s "

“A Route of Evanescence”: Emily Dickinson’s New England Moment of Modernity in the 1890s

Patricia Chaudron, University at Buffalo, SUNY

This paper will address Emily Dickinson’s 1890s reception that established her as a New England curiosity. Although views of Dickinson as a modern writer who did not fit into the nineteenth century have recently been re-evaluated, Dickinson’s perceived modernity at the time of the publication of her poems has not received similar attention. The 1890s were characterized by the popularity of local color, a genre that is commonly interpreted as familiarizing an audience with local, sectional American realities. Dickinson’s poems, which were interpreted in the 1890s as “strange,” were accordingly contextualized within the niche of New England local color writing.

Although this context made Dickinson visible to a fin-de-siècle audience as a “modern” poet who had access to a fresh perspective, she was eventually disregarded as being too typical of New England’s cultivated eccentricity. According to William Dean Howells, the most influential tastemaker of the decade, Dickinson could be viewed as an outdated New England relic but also functioned as a harbinger of a socially fraught American modernity. This paper will illustrate how the reviews and Dickinson’s poems construct and add complexity to local color.