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Richards, Eliza: "Between Text and Context"

Between Text and Context

Eliza Richards, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Emily Dickinson in Context, ed. Eliza Richards (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Asked to design a collection of essays that would offer a comprehensive introduction to the crucial contexts for the study of Dickinson, I certainly wanted to do it, but was baffled about how to proceed. Because her writings have been made and remade by readers and editors, reconfigured in ways that the writer could not have fully anticipated, where can we say that the Dickinson texts end, and their contexts begin? My presentation explores this nagging, central question that underpins all the stellar contributions to the volume. In part because the critical transformation of Dickinson has been so dramatic--from a private writer whose finely wrought formal experiments offered insights into an acute individual consciousness to an astute commentator on the complex world of political, economic, intellectual and cultural activities around her--we become acutely aware of our struggle to determine where Dickinson leaves off and our critical approaches begin. Each contributor adjusts this unchartable, ever-moving boundary, and the elastic poems respond. But what is the horizon of limitations on these interpretations? At what point do we get Dickinson wrong, and what can allow us to determine that? I will address the critical significance of these questions in terms of this forthcoming volume, and for Dickinson studies in general.