Emily Dickinson

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “A Woman–White: Emily Dickinson’s Yarn of Pearl,” in The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1979.

“The fantasies of guilt and anger that were expressed in the entranced reveries of the fiction-maker by writers like Rossetti and Barrett Browning, and by all the novelists we have considered, were literally enacted by Dickinson in her own life, her own being… Emily Dickinson herself became such an angel… Emily Dickinson herself enacted the part of a child” (583).

“We will argue here that Dickinson’s posing was not an accident of but essential to her poetic self-achievement, specifically because–as we have suggested–the verse-drama into which she transformed her life enabled her to transcend what Suzanne Juhasz has called the ‘double bind’ of the woman poet: on the one hand, the impossibility of self-assertion for a woman, on the other hand, the necessity of self-assertion for a poet” (584).

“We have seen that, from Austen’s parodic Laura and Sophia to Emily Brontë’s A. G. A., the heroines of fiction by women obsessively and self-consciously enact precisely the melodramatic romances and gothic plots that their reclusive authors deny themselves (or are denied) in their own lives. We have seen, too, that the female author increasingly moves from a position of ‘objectivity’ and indifference, or even one of ironic amusement, toward her protagonists…to an open identification with her heroine. Not surprisingly, then, in the work of Emily Dickinson, the latest and most consciously radical of these artists, we see the culmination of this process, an almost complete absorption of the characters of the fiction into the persona of their author, so that this writer and her protagonist(s) become for all practical purposes one–one ‘supposed person’ achieving the authority of self-creation by enacting many highly literary selves and lives” (585).

“For Dickinson, indeed, art is not so much poeisis–making–as it is mimesis–enactment, and this because she believes that even consciousness is not so much reflective as it is theatrical” (586). 

“…by literally and figuratively impersonating ‘a woman–white,’ Dickinson wove her life into a gothic ‘Yarn of Pearl’ that gave her exactly the ‘Amplitude’ and ‘Awe’ she knew she needed in order to write great poetry” (586).

“As many critics have observed, Dickinson began her poetic career by consciously enacting the part of a child–both by deliberately prolonging her own childhood and by inventing a new, alternative childhood for herself. At the same time, however, her child mask was inseparable from her even more famously self-defining role as the inoffensive and invisible soul of ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ In keeping with this early yet toughly enduring version of herself, Dickinson insistently described herself as a tiny person, a wren, a daisy, a mouse, a child, a modest little creature easily mastered by circumference and circumstance. Like Barrett Browning, whose poetry she much admired, she seems at first to have assuaged the guilt verse-writing aroused by transforming Romantic poetic self-assertion into an aesthetic of female service modeled on Victorian marriage. Certainly something like the relationship between a masterful husband and a self-abnegating wife appears to be at the heart of much of her poetry, where it is also pictured, variously, as the encounter of lover and mistress, king and queen. On closer examination, however, we can see that–in keeping with this poet’s persistent child pose–the male-female relationship is ‘really’ that of father and daughter, master and scholar/slave, ferocious ‘man of noon’ and vulnerable flower of dawn, reverent or rebellious Nobody and (to borrow a useful neologism from William Blake) omnipotent omnipresent Nobodaddy” (587).

“…though Mrs. Browning’s American disciple described herself as Nobody, admired Aurora Leigh, and seemed on occasion to preach the ‘piercing virtue’ of a Rosetti-esque renunciation, many of her most modest and ‘feminine’ remarks were undercut by a steel blade of irony that transformed service into subversion and renunciation into the ‘Royal Seal’ of a ‘White Election’. Still, despite her secret sense of election, Dickinson understood the social requirements, masquerading as cosmic laws, which obliged every woman in some sense to enact the role of Nobody” (587-8).

“It is particularly catastrophic, however, for a poet’s sea of Awe to be hidden and unmentionable…Neither an inner sea nor a mother named Awe can be renounced: both are facts of the blood, inescapable inheritances” (590).

“Rather early in her life as an artist, Dickinson must have half-consciously perceived that she could avoid the necessity of renouncing her art by renouncing, instead, that concept of womanliness which required self-abnegating renunciation. Or, to put it another way, she must have decided that to begin with she could try to solve the problem of being a woman by refusing to admit that she was a woman. Though she might then lack the crowning title that is the ‘sign’ of achieved womanliness or wifehood, she would glow with the ‘White Election’ of art. …By remaining in her father’s house, a childlike Nobody (rather than becoming a wifely Nobody in a husband’s house), she would have at least a chance of negotiating with Awe for the rank of Somebody” (591).

“…the asexual ‘Possibility’ of childhood was far more awesome and amplitudinous than the suffocating ‘Prose’ of female adulthood. The consequences of Dickinson’s early impersonation of childhood and her concomitant fascination with its solemn playthings as opposed to the work ‘Of Woman, and of Wife’ were far-reaching indeed. On the one hand, her initially strong commitment to an elaborately contrived (and from the world’s point of view, ‘partially cracked’) child mask enabled her not only to write a great deal of poetry but to write a great deal of astonishingly innovating poetry–poetry full of grammatical ‘mistakes’ and stylistic eccentricities such as only a mad child could write. On the other hand, while freeing her form the terrors of marriage and allowing her to ‘play’ with the toys of Amplitude, the child mask (or pose or costume) eventually threatened to become a crippling self, a self that in the crisis of her gothic life fiction locked her into her father’s house in the way that a little girl is confined to a nursery. What was habit in the sense of costume became habit in the more pernicious sense of addiction, and finally the two habits led to both an inner and outer inhabitation –a haunting interior other and an inescapable prison” (591). (ADRE: STEVIE SMITH)

“The impersonation of a child’s naiveté can be put to more than one good use, we see here. Not only can a child play at verse but (since from the child’s perspective all language is fresh or strange) all words can become a child’s shiny toys, to be examined, handled, tasted, fondled with ironic Awe” (593).

“…just as her engagement with the business of households remained childlike but darkened, so her poetic questionings of language and experience remained childlike in their perspective of Awe but darkened and became severer” (593).

“…as she grew older, she discovered that the price of her salvation was her agoraphobic imprisonment in her father’s household, along with a concomitant exclusion from the passionate drama of adult sexuality” (595).

“…as Dickinson grew into that inescapable sexual consciousness which her little girl pose postponed but did not evade, she realized that she must move away from the androgynous freedom of childhood and began, therefore, to perceive the symbolic castration implicit in female powerlessness. Looking into the scorching dazzle of the patriarchal sun–the enormous ‘masculine’ light that controls and illuminates all public things-as-they-are–she must have felt blinded by its intensity, made aware, that is, both of her own comparative weakness and of her own ambivalence about looking” (595).

“Under the blinding gaze of noon, agoraphobia (meaning the desire for walls, for reassurance, for love and certainty) becomes claustrophobia (meaning inescapable walls, ‘love’ transformed to limits), and the old-fashioned little girl is locked into one of the cells of darkness her God/Father seems to have prepared for her” (604).

Dickinson, along with Brontë and Fuller, wrote somewhat masochistic “Master letters” : “Though Margaret Fuller was in 1852 to claim as ‘a vulgar error that love, love, to Woman is her whole existence,’ in 1843 she drafted a fantasy letter to Beethoven, a Master letter not unlike Dickinson’s drafts to her mysterious love and Brontë’s letters to Constantin Héger. Here, insisting that ‘my lot is accursed, yes, my friend, let me curse it… I have no art, in which to vent the swell of a soul as deep as thine,’ she went on to analyze with terrible clarity not only her imprisonment in romantic plots but the patriarchal structures she knew those plots reflected” (606).

“If Dickinson’s Master is silent while she speaks, however, who is really the master and who the slave? Here her self-effacing pose as Nobody suggests levels of irony as intricately layered as the little bundles of speech that lay hidden all her life in her bureau drawer” (607).

“…doesn’t a little girl who ‘plays’ by creating a whole garden of verses secretly triumph over the businesslike world of fathers and teachers and households? If so, is not the little girl really, covertly an adult, one of the Elect, even an unacknowledged queen or empress?” (608).

Whereas the gun is traditionally a poetic phallus substitute, “For Dickinson, on the other hand, the Gun’s Vesuvian smile is directed outward, impartially killing the timid dow (a female who rose to patriarchal Requirements?), all the foes of the Muse/Master, and perhaps even, eventually, the vulnerably human Master himself. Dancing ‘like a Bomb’ abroad, exploding out of the ‘sod grown,’ the ‘frame’ of darkness to which her life had been ‘shaven and fitted,’ the enraged poet becomes her own weapon, her instrumentality transferred from ‘His Requirements’ to her own needs. In a sense, the Master here is no more than the explanation or occasion for the poet’s rage” (610). (AD: re: de Beauvoir’s assertion that it is the killing rather than the producing sex that reigns.)

“Dickinson’s overwhelming and previously engulfing ‘wound’ becomes a weapon. ‘A Wounded Deer–leaps highest,’ she had insisted in one of her earliest verses. ‘Tis but the Ecstasy of death–/ And then the Brake is still!’ Her identification, then, had been with the wounded animal. In ‘My Life had stood,’ however, she turns upon that passive and suffering doe in herself and hunts her down… Wounds cause explosions” (611).

“The white election. The white heat. There is a sense in which the color (or uncolor) white is the key to the whole metaphorical history of Emily Dickinson as a supposed person. Certainly its ambiguities of meaning constitute a central strand in the yarn of pearl which is her life fiction. Some time in the early or mid-sixties, possibly during that equivocal annus mirabilis of 1862, she took to wearing her famous white dress, perhaps at first intermittently, as a costume of special import for special occasions; then constantly, so that this extraordinary costume eventually became an ordinary habit” (613).

“Dickinson’s white is thus a two-edged blade of light associated with both flame and snow, both triumph and martyrdom. Absolute as the ‘universal blanc’ Milton ‘sees’ in Paradise Lost, it paradoxically represents both a divine intensity and a divine absence, both the innocence of dawn and the iciness of death, the passion of the bride and the snow of the virgin. From this it follows, too, that for Dickinson white also suggests both the pure potential of a tabula rasa, a blank page, an unlived life–’the Missing All’–and the sheer fatigue of winter, the North, a ‘polar expiation,’ that wilderness of ice where Satan’s legions journey and Mary Shelley’s unholy trinity meet. In addition, therefore, white implies the glory of heaven and the ghastliness of hell united in a single creative/destructive principle, as in Percy Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc.’ Dramatically associated with both babies and ghosts, it is the color of the lily’s foot and of the spider’s thread, of the tender Daisy’s petals and of the experienced Pearl’s tough skin. Last, despite its importance for Melville, white was in the nineteenth century a distinctively female color, frequently chosen as emblematic by or of women for reasons Dickinson seems to have understood quite well” (615). (AD: re: Victorian sexual purity of women)

“…although in one sense whiteness implies an invitation, in another, it suggests a refusal, just as passivity connotes both compliance and resistance. Snow may be vulnerable to the sun but it is also a denial of heat, and the word virginity, because its root associates it with the word vir, meaning manliness or power, images a kind of self-enclosing armor, as the mythic moon-white figure of Diana the huntress tells us. For such a snow maiden, virginity, signifying power instead of weakness, is not a gift she gives her groom but a boon she grants to herself: the boon of androgynous wholeness, autonomy, self-sufficiency” (617). (AD: virginity is not necessarily autonomy or self-sufficiency.)

“Dressing all white, might she not have meant to indicate the death to the world of an old Emily and the birth of another Emily, a supposed person or a series of supposed persons who escaped the Requirements of Victorian reality by assuming the eccentricities of Victorian fiction? Enacting a private Apocalypse, might she not, like Aurora Leigh, be taking her ‘part’ with ‘God’s dead, who afford to walk in white’ in order to practice the art of self-creation?” (621).

“Impersonating simultaneously a ‘little maid’ in white, a fierce virgin in white, a nun in white, a bride in white, a madwoman in white, a dead woman in white, and a ghost in white, Dickinson seems to have split herself into a series of incubae, haunting not just her father’s house but her own mind, for, as she wrote in one of her most openly confessional poems, ;One need not be a Chamber–to be Haunted”… “[these selves] dramatized an ongoing quarrel within that enigmatic self” (622).

“Dickinson’s keen awareness that she was living (or, more accurately, constructing) her life as if it were a gothic romance, and it comments upon the real significance of the gothic genre, especially for women: its usefulness in providing metaphors for those turbulent psychological states into which the divided selves of the nineteenth century so often fell” (625).

“a particularly female doom: the doom of sterility which is the price virgin whiteness exacts” (632).

Johnson, Thomas H. “The Vision and Veto of Emily Dickinson.”

When asked about her reading, “she replied: ‘For Poets, I have Keats, and Mr. and Mrs. Browning. For Prose, Mr. Ruskin, Sir Thomas Browne, and the Revelations.’… Browne’s concern with language and his solemn reflections on death and immortality are the heart of Dickinson’s inner world; its soul is the ecstatic vision of John of Patmos” (vii).

Dickinson loved “eye-rhymes” (come-home) and used “identical rhymes” (stone-stone), vowel rhymes (see-buy), imperfect rhymes (thing-along).

“Her agonizing sense of ironic contrasts; of the weight of suffering; of the human predicament in which man is mocked, destroyed, and beckoned to some incomprehensible repose; of the limits of reason, order, and justice in human as well as divine relationship: – this is the anguish of the Shakespeare of King Lear, and it was shared in like degree among nineteenth-century American writers only by Herman Melville, who also had his war with God. Yet, unlike Melville, she is willing to love the God with whom she is at war. Thus she is a closer spiritual neighbor to Jonathan Edwards…” (xii).














Long 20th Century Feminist Theories PhD Exam Reading List

Alyssa Duck

Minor Field Reading List

20th Century Feminist Theory

Prospective PhD Orals List



Literary Feminism


Mina Loy, Feminist Manifesto (1914)

Laura Riding Jackson, Anarchism is Not Enough (1901)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

–. Three Guineas (1938)

Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)

—. No Man’s Land (1991)

Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: From Charlotte Brontë to Doris Lessing




Women and Language


Robin Lakoff, Language and Women’s Place (1975)

Luce Irigaray, Parler n’est jamais neutre (1985)

Alette Olin Hill, Mother Tongue, Father Time: A Decade of Linguistic Revolt (1986)

Deborah Tannen, Gender and Discourse (1994)



French Feminism & Psychoanalysis


Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (1974)

—. Semiotike (1991)

Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa (1975)

Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly-Born Woman (1975)

Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is not One (1977)

—. Speculum of the Other Woman (1985)

Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness (1985)

Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (1990)

Nancy J. Chodorow, Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1991)

Bracha Ettinger, The Matrixial Borderspace (2006)




British & American Feminism


Betty Friedan, The Feminist Mystique (1963)

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (1976)

–. On Lies, Secrets and Silence (1979)

Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (1981)

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (1984)

Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic (1990)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (1990)

Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1997)

Long 20th Century American PhD Exam Reading List

note: In Progress.


Alyssa Duck

Major Field Reading List #1

Long 20th Century American Literature

Prospective PhD Orals List


Late 19th Century Poetry


Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Selected Poems

Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Selected Poems

Julia Ward Howe, Selected Poems


Late 19th Century Prose


Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk


Early 20th Century Prose


Willa Cather, My Antonia

Edith Wharton, House of Mirth


Modernist Poetry


John Crowe Ransom, Selected Poems

Alice Duer Miller, Selected Poems

e. e. Cummings, Selected Poems

Ezra Pound, Cantos, Ripostes

H. D., Collected Poems

Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems

Hart Crane, Selected Poems

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons

William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems

Mina Loy, Lost Lunar Baedeker

Amy Lowell, Selected Poems

Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, Body Sweats

Marianne Moore, Poems


Harlem Renaissance


Claude McKay, Selected Poems

Langston Hughes, Selected Poems

Jean Toomer, Cane

Alain Locke, The New Negro Anthology

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were Watching God


Modernist Prose


Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

John Steinbeck, East of Eden



Late Modernism


Laura Riding Jackson, Selected Poems

Elizabeth Bishop, Selected Poems

Robert Frost, Selected Poems

Theodore Roethke, Selected Poems

Louis Zukofsky, “A,” “Poem beginning ‘The’”


Post-Modernist Prose


Richard Wright, Native Son

Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Arthur Miller, The Crucible

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

John Updike, Rabbit, Run

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Don DeLillo, White Noise


Post-Modern & Confessional Poets


Charles Olson

Denise Levertov

Jack Keruoac

Allen Ginsberg

John Berryman

Robert Lowell

Sylvia Plath

Alicia Ostriker

Anne Sexton

Frank O’Hara

John Ashbery


Contemporary Poets


Adrienne Rich

Muriel Rukeyser

Amiri Baraka

Audre Lorde

Mary Oliver



Laura Riding Jackson, Anarchy is Not Enough, “Eve’s Side of It”

Ezra Pound

H. D., End to Torment , Notes on Thought and Vision

Gertrude Stein, How to Write

Michael Heller, Conviction’s Net of Branches: Essays on the Objectivist Poets

Glenn Hughes, Images & the Imagists: A Study in Modern Poetry

David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry

Maggie Nelson, Women, the New York School, and Other Abstractions

Terence Diggory, Ecyclopedia of New York School Poets

Marjorie Perloff, Poetic License

Marjorie Perloff, Poetics in a New Key

Marjorie Perloff, 21st Century Modernism

Northrup Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

Emily Dickinson, Letters

Long 20th Century British & Irish PhD Exam Reading List

note: In Progress.


Alyssa Duck

Major Field Reading List #2

Long 20th Century British Poetry

Prospective PhD Orals List


Late Victorian Prose

 D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

George Macdonald, Lilith


Late Victorian Poets


Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Poems

Rudyard Kipling, “If”

Matthew Arnold, “The Study of Poetry”


Modernist Prose


George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway

James Joyce, Ulysses

Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero


Lost Generation / WWI Poets

 T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland,” “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Four Quartets,” Selected Prose

Isaac Rosenberg, “A Worm Fed on the Heart of Corinth,” “August 1914,” “Break of Day in the Trenches”

Wilfred Owen “A Terre,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth, “Arms and the Boy”

Vera Mary Brittain, Selected Poems


Modernist Poets

 T. E. Hulme, Selected Poems

W. B. Yeats, Selected Poems

Hugh MacDiarmid, Selected Poems

Thomas MacGreevy, Selected Poems

W. H. Auden, Selected Poems

Dylan Thomas, Selected Poems

Stephen Spender, Selected Poems



“The Movement”


Philip Larkin, Selected Poems

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

Elizabeth Jennings, Poems


Post-45 Poets


Ted Hughes, Crow, The Birthday Letters

Stevie Smith, All the Poems

Edith Sitwell, Selected Poems

Samuel Beckett, Selected Poems

Seamus Heaney, Selected Poems

Eavan Boland, Outside History

Paul Muldoon, Selected Poems



Post-45 Prose


Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea       

Flann O’Brian, At Swim-Two-Birds

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Harold Pinter, The Homecoming

Samuel Beckett, L’innomable

George Orwell, selected essays





Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Carol Christ, Victorian & Modern Poetics

Q. D. Leavis, Fiction & the Reading Public

Blake Morrison, The Movement

I. A. Richards, Pratical Criticism

Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn

Philip Sidney, Apology for Poetry

W. B. Yeats, A Vision

Alison Light, Forever England

Jan Montefiore, Feminism & Poetry

De Man, “Lyric & Modernity”

Frederic Jameson, A Singular Modernity

Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar, The Madwoman In the Attic

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Second Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1979, 2000.

Chapter 1: The Queen’s Looking Glass: Female Creativity, Male Images of Women, and the Metaphor of Literary Paternity

“Is the pen a metaphorical penis? Gerard Manley Hopkins seems to have thought so” (3).

Hopkins asserted that “the male quality is the creative gift.” (3). “Male sexuality, in other words, is not just analogically but actually the essence of literary power. The poet’s pen is in some sense (even more than figuratively) a penis” (4).

(Edward) “Said himself later observes that a convention of most literary texts is ‘that the unity or integrity of the text is maintained by a series of genealogical connections: author–text, beginning-middle-end, text–meaning, reader–interpretation, and so on. Underneath all these is the imagery of succession, of paternity, or hierarchy” (5).

“Defining poetry as a mirror held up to nature, the mimetic aesthetic that begins with Aristotle and descends through Sidney, Shakespeare, and Johnson implies that the poet, like a lesser God, has made or engendered an alternative, mirror-universe in which he actually seems to enclose or trap shadows of reality” (5).

“In all these aesthetics the poet, like God the Father, is a paternalistic ruler of the fictive world he has created. Shelley called him a ‘legislator'” (5).

“God the Father both engenders the cosmos and, as Ernst Robert Curtius notes, writes the Book of Nature: both tropes describe a single act of creation” (6). He also “writes the book of Judgment” (6). (AD: fathering universe::fathering written words)

“The fierce struggle at the heart of literary history, says [Harold] Bloom, is a ‘battle between strong equals, father and son as mighty opposites, Laius and Oedipus at the crossroads.’ Though many of these writers use the metaphor of literary paternity in different ways and for different purposes, all seem overwhelmingly to agree that a literary text is not only speech quite literally embodied, but also power mysteriously made manifest, made flesh… [the] pen’s power, like his penis’s power, is not just the ability to generate life but the power to create a posterity to which he lays claim…” (6).

“If the pen is a metaphorical penis, with what organ can females generate texts? …what if the male generative power is not just the only legitimate power but the only power there is?” (7).

“Because they are by definition male activities, this passage [from Anne Finch’s poetry] implies, writing, reading, and thinking are not only alien but also inimical to ‘female’ characteristics. One hundred years later, in a famous letter to Charlotte Brontë, Robert Southey rephrased the same notion: ‘Literature is not the business of a woman’s life, and it cannot be.’ It cannot be, the metaphor of literary paternity implies, because it is physiologically as well as sociologically impossible. If male sexuality is integrally associated with the assertive presence of literary power, female sexuality is associated with the absence of such power, with the idea–expressed by the nineteenth-century thinker Otto Weininger–that ‘woman has no share in ontological reality'” (8). (AD: pen –> generative capacity –> ontological reality. All steps are male.)

“Devoid of what Richard Chase once called ‘the masculine élan,’ and implicitly rejecting even the slavish consolations of her ‘femininity,’ a literary woman is doubly a ‘Cypher,’ for she is really a ‘eunuch,’ to use the striking figure Germaine Greer applied to all women in patriarchal society” (9).

In his introduction to the anthology The Female Poets of America, Rufus Griswold “outlined a theory of literary sex roles which builds upon, and clarifies, these grim implications of the metaphor of literary paternity” (9). He says: “The most exquisite susceptibility of the spirit, and the capacity to mirror in dazzling variety the effects which circumstances or surrounding minds work upon it, may be accompanied by no power to originate, nor even, in any proper sense, to reproduce” (9). (AD: Think through this in conjunction with Irigaray’s theories of the mirror’s tain.)

“our culture’s historical confusion of literary authorship with patriarchal authority” (11).

“what Bersani, Austen, and Chaucer all imply is that, precisely because a writer ‘fathers’ his text, his literary creations (as we pointed out earlier) are his possession, his property. Having defined them in language and thus generated them, he owns them, controls them, and encloses them on the printed page” (12).

“Like the metaphor of literary paternity itself, this corollary notion that the chief creature man has generated is woman has a long and complex history. From Eve, Minerva, Sophia, and Galatea onward, after all, patriarchal mythology defines women as created by, from, and for men, the children of male brains, ribs, and ingenuity. For Blake the eternal female was at her best an Emanation of the male creative principle. For Shelley she was an epi-psyche, a soul out of the poet’s soul, whose inception paralleled on a spiritual plane the solider births of Eve and Minerva. Throughout the history of Western culture, moreover, male-engendered female figures as superficially disparate as Milton’s Sin, Swift’s Chloe, and Yeats’s Crazy Jane have incarnated men’s ambivalence not only toward female sexuality but toward their own (male) physicality. At the same time, male texts, continually elaborating the metaphor of literary paternity, have continually proclaimed that, in Honoré de Balzac’s ambiguous words, ‘woman’s virtue is man’s greatest invention'” (12-13).

“Superiority–or literary authority–’has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills'” (14, quoting The Second Sex). “In D. H. Lawrence’s words, ‘the Lord of Life are the Masters of Death’–and, therefore, patriarchal poetics implies, they are the masters of art” (14).

Women are often charged with “inconstancy–her refusal, that is, to be fixed or ‘killed’ by an author/owner, her stubborn insistence on her own way…From a female perspective, however, such ‘inconstancy’ can only be encouraging, for–implying duplicity–it suggests that women themselves have the power to create themselves as characters, even perhaps the power to reach toward the woman trapped on the other side of the mirror / text and help her to climb out” (16).

“Before the woman writer can journey through the looking glass toward literary autonomy, however, she must come to terms with the images on the surface of the glass, with, that is, those mythic masks male artists have fastened over her human face both to lessen their dread of her ‘inconstancy’ and–by identifying her with the ‘eternal types’ they have themselves invented–to possess her more thoroughly. Specifically, as we will try to show her, a woman writer must examine, assimilate, and transcend the extreme images of ‘angel’ and ‘monster’ which male authors have generated for her. Before we women can write, declared Virginia Woolf, we must ‘kill’ the ‘angel in the house.’ In other words, women must kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been ‘killed’ into art. And, similarly, all women writers must kill the angel’s necessary opposite and double, the ‘monster’ in the house, whose Medusa-face also kills female creativity. For us as feminist critics, however, the Woolfian act of ‘killing’ both angels and monsters must here begin with an understanding of the nature and origin of these images. At this point in our construction of a feminist poetics, then, we really must dissect in order to murder. And we must particularly do this in order to understand literature by women because, as we shall show, the images of ‘angel’ and ‘monster’ have been so ubiquitous throughout literature by men that they have also pervaded women’s writing to such an extent that few women have definitively ‘killed’ either figure. Rather, the female imagination has perceived itself, as it were, through a glass darkly: until quite recently the woman writer has had (if only unconsciously) to define herself as a mysterious creature who resides behind the angel or monster or angel/monster image that lives on what Mary Elizabeth Coleridge called ‘the crystal surface'” (17).

“…the woman writer acknowledges with pain, confusion, and anger that what she sees in the mirror is usually a male construct, the ‘pure gold baby’ of male brains, a glittering and wholly artificial child” (17-18).

[of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh”] “The female forms Aurora sees in her dead mother’s picture are extreme, melodramatic, gothic–”Ghost, fiend, and angel, fairy, witch, and sprite”–significantly, as she tells us, because her reading merges with her seeing. What htis implies, however, is not only that she herself is fated to inhabit male-defined masks and costumes, as her mother did, but that male-defined masks and costumes inevitably inhabit her, altering her vision…if she is to be a poet she must deconstruct the dead self that is a male ‘opus’ and discover a living, ‘inconstant’ self. She must, in other words, replace the ‘copy’ with the ‘individuality,’ as Barrett Browning once said she thought she herself had done in her mature art. Significantly, however, the ‘copy’ selves depicted in Aurora’s mother’s portrait ultimately represent, once again, the moral extremes of angel (“angel,” “fairy,” and perhaps “sprite”) and monster (“ghost,” “witch,” “fiend”)(19).

“…precisely because a woman is denied the autonomy–the subjectivity–that the pen represents, she is not only excluded from culture (whose emblem might well be the pen) but she also becomes herself an embodiment of just those extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing” (19).

“The famous vision of the ‘Eternal Feminine’ (das Ewig-Weigliche) with which Goethe’s Faust concludes presents women from penitent prostitutes to angelic cirgins in just this role of interpreters or intermediaries between the divine Father and his human sons…The eternal feminine (i. e. the eternal principle symbolized by woman) draws us to higher spheres” (21).

“Once again, therefore, it is just because women are defined as wholly passive, completely void of generative power (like ‘Cyphers’) that they become numinous to male artists. For in the metaphysical emptiness their ‘purity’ signifies they are, of course, self-less, with all the moral and psychological implications that word suggests” (21).

[of Coventry Patmore’s influential The Angel in the House] “Honoria’s essential virtue, in other words, is that her virtue makes her man ‘great'” (22).

Patmore opines that “if Woman owes her Being to the Comfort and Profit of man, ’tis highly reasonable that she should be careful and diligent to content and please him” (23).

“John Ruskin affirmed in 1865 that the woman’s ‘power is not for rule, not for battle, and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet orderings’ of domesticity. Plainly, both writers mean that, enshrined within her home, a Victorian angel-woman should become her husband’s holy refuge from the blood and sweat that inevitably accompanies a ‘life of significant action,’ as well as, in her ‘contemplative purity,’ a living memento of the otherness of the divine” (24).

“But if the angel-woman in some curious way simultaneously inhabits both this world and the next, then there is a sense in which, besides ministering to the dying, she is herself already dead” (24).

“…the aesthetic cult of ladylike fragility and delicate beauty–no doubt associated with the moral cult of the angel-woman–obliged ‘genteel’ women to ‘kill’ themselves into art objects: slim, pale, passive beings whose ‘charms’ eerily recalled the snowy, porcelain immobility of the dead” (25).

“the emblematic ‘beautiful woman’ whose death, thought Edgar Allen Poe, ‘is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.’ Whether she becomes an objet d’art or a saint, however, it is the surrender of her self–of her personal comfort, her personal desires, or both–that is the beautiful angel-woman’s key act, while it is precisely this sacrifice which dooms her both to death and to heaven. For to be selfless is not only to be noble, it is to be dead. A life that has no story…is really a life of death, a death-in-life” (25).

“if, as nurse and comforter, spirit-guide and mystical messenger, a woman ruled the dying and the dead, might not even her admirers sometimes fear that, besides dying or easing death, she could bring death?” (26).

Woman necessarily has some degree of “stubborn autonomy and unknowable subjectivity, meaning the ineradicable selfishness that underlies even her angelic renunciation of self” (27).

“the monster0woman, threatening to replace her angelic sister, embodies intransigent female autonomy and thus represents both the author’s power to allay ‘his’ anxieties by calling their source bad names (witch, bitch, fiend, monster) and, simultaneously, the mysterious power of the character who refuses to stay in her textually ordained ‘place’ and thus generates a story that ‘gets away’ from its author” (28). (AD: bad progeny.)

“…the monster may not only be concealed behind the angel, she may actually turn out to reside within (or in the lower half of) the angel. Thus, Thackeray implies, every angel in the house–’proper, agreeable, and decorous,’ ‘coaxing and cajoling’ hapless men–is really, perhaps, a monster, ‘diabolically hideous and slimy” (29).

As Adrienne Rich notes in “Planetarium,” “the skies are full of them.”

“…to the extent that they incarnate male dread of women and, specifically, male scorn of female creativity, such characters have drastically affected the self-images of women writers, negatively reinforcing those messages of submissiveness conveyed by their angelic sisters” (30).

“But because these other women can create false appearances to hide their vile natures, they are even more dangerous” (30).

“Like Spenser’s Errour and Milton’s Sin, [Swift’s Goddess of] Criticism is linked by her processes of eternal breeding, eating, spewing, feeding, and redevouring to biological cycles all three poets view as destructive to transcendent, intellectual life” (33).

check out Karen Horney, “The Dread of Woman” in Feminine Psychology

The sexual nausea associated with all these monster women helps explain why so many real women have for so long expressed loathing of (or at least anxiety about) their own, inexorably female bodies. The ‘killing’ of oneself into an art object–the pruning and preening, the mirror madness, and concern with odors and aging, with hair which is invariably too curly or too lank, with bodies too thin or too thick–all this testifies to the efforts women have expended not just trying to be angels but trying not to become female monsters. …the female freak is and has been a powerfully coercive and monitory image that helped enforce the injunctions to silence implicit in the concept of the [eternal feminine]” (34).

Look up Laura Riding’s “Eve’s Side of It” in conjunction with George MacDonald’s Lilith

“…the message Lilith incarnates: a life of feminine submission, of ‘contemplative purity,’ is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of ‘significant action,’ is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story” (36).

Chapter 2: Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship

[Harold] “Bloom explains that a ‘strong poet’ must engage in heroic warfare with his ‘precursor,’ for, involved as he is in a literary Oedipal struggle, a man can only become a poet by somehow invalidating his poetic father” (47).

“the female poet does not experience the ‘anxiety of influence’ in the same way that her male counterpart would, for the simple reason that she must confront precursors who are almost exclusively male, and therefore significantly different from her” (48).

“not only can she not fight a male precursor on ‘his’ terms and win, she cannot ‘beget’ art upon the (female) body of the muse” (49).

“Frequently, moreover, she can begin such a struggle only by actively seeking a female precursor who, far from representing a threatening force to be denied or killed, proves by example that a revolt against patriarchal literary authority is possible” (49).

“it would be foolish to lock the woman artist into an Electra pattern matching the Oedipal structure Bloom proposes for male writers” (30).

“Seeking motherly precursors, says [poet Annie] Gottlieb, as if echoing Dickinson, the woman writer may find only infection, debilitation. Yet still she must seek, not seek to subvert, her ‘female power, which is important’ to her because of her lost literary matrilineage” (53).

Although Dickinson claimed that she “ran home to Awe” rather than a “Mother” as a child, “her own anxiety of authorship was a ‘Despair’ inhaled not only from the infections suffered by her own ailing physical mother, and her many tormented literary mothers, but from the literary fathers who spoke to her–even ‘lied’ to her–sometimes near at hand, sometimes ‘at distances of Centuries,’ from the censorious looking glasses of literary texts” (53).

“nineteenth-century culture seems to have actually admonished women to be ill. In other words, the ‘female diseases’ form which Victorian women suffered were not always byproducts of their training in femininity; they were the goals of such training. As Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English have shown, throughout much of the nineteenth century “upper and upper-middle-class women were [defined as] ‘sick [frail, ill]; working-class women were [defined as] ‘sickening’ [infectious, diseased]” (54).

“Implying ruthless self-suppression, does the ‘eternal feminine’ necessarily imply illness?” (55).

Dickinson says “Infection in the Sentence breeds.”


“Certainly infection breeds in these sentences, and despair: female art, Sexton suggests, has a ‘hidden’ but crucial tradition of uncontrollable madness” (56).

“Rejecting the poisoned apples her culture offers her, the woman writer often becomes in some sense anorexic, resolutely closing her mouth on silence (since–in the words of Jane Austen’s Henry Tiley–’a woman’s only power is the power of refusal’), even while she complains of starvation” (58).

“Clearly there is a conscious or semiconscious irony in all these choices of the apparently miniature over the assuredly major, of the domestic over the dramatic, of the private over the public, of obscurity over glory. But just as clearly the very need to make such choices emphasizes the sickening anxiety of authorship inherent in the situation of almost ever woman writer in England and America until quite recently” (64).

“For all these women, the cloak of maleness was obviously a practical-seeming refuge from those claustrophobic double binds of ‘femininity’ which had given so much pain to writers like Bradstreet, Finch, and Cavendish” (65).

“Barrett Browning declares, only in death will [George] Sand be able to transcend the constrictions of her gender. Then God will ‘unsex’ her ‘on the heavenly shore.’ But until then, she must acquiesce in her inescapable femaleness, manifested by her ‘woman’s heart’s’ terrible beating ‘in a poetic fire'” (67).

“…while they achieved essential authority by telling their own tales, these writers allayed their distinctively female anxieties of authorship by following Emily Dickinson’s famous (and characteristically female) advice to ‘tell the truth but tell it slant–’.)” (73).

“…women from Jane Austen and Mary Shelley to Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson produced literary works that are in some sense palimpsestic, works whose surface designs conceal or obscure deeper, less accessible (and less socially acceptable) levels of meaning. Thus these authors managed the difficult task of achieving true female literary authority by simultaneously conforming to and subverting patriarchal literary standards” (73).

“nineteenth-century literary women felt they had things to hide” (75).

“The story ‘no man may guess,’ therefore, is the story of her attempt to make herself whole by healing her own infections and diseases. To heal herself, however, the woman writer must exorcise the sentences which bred her infection in the first place; she must overtly or covertly free herself of the despair she inhaled from some ‘Wrinkled Maker,’ and she can only do this by revising the Maker’s texts” (76).

“…even when they do not overtly criticize patriarchal institutions or conventions (and most of the nineteenth-century women we shall be studying do not overtly do so), these writers almost obsessively create characters who enact their own, covert authorial anger… but over and over again they project what seems to be the energy of their own despair into passionate, even melodramatic characters who act out the subversive impulses every woman inevitably feels when she contemplates the ‘deep-rooted’ evils of patriarchy” (77).

“Because her audience potentially includes the man from whom she is trying to escape, she must balance her need to paint her own condition against her need to circumvent detection. Her strained relationship to her art is thus determined almost entirely by her gender, so that from both her anxieties and her strategies for overcoming them we can extrapolate a number of the crucial ways in which women’s art has been radically qualified by their femaleness” (82).

“…indeed, almost all nineteenth-century women were in some sense imprisoned in men’s houses. Figuratively, such women were, as we have seen, locked into male texts, texts from which they could escape only through ingenuity and indirection. It is not surprising, then, that spatial imagery of enclosure and escape, elaborated with what frequently becomes obsessive intensity, characterizes much of their writing” (83).

“While some male authors also use such imagery for implicitly or explicitly confessional projects, women seem forced to live more intimately with the metaphors they have created to solve the ‘problem’ of their fall…houses nests, shells, and wardrobes are in us as much as we are in them” (87).

“…conditioned to believe that as a house she is herself owned (and ought to be inhabited) by a man, she may once again but for yet another reason see herself as inescapably an object. In other words, even if she does not experience her womb as a kind of tomb or perceive her child’s occupation of her house/body as depersonalizing, she may recognize that in an essential way she has been defined simply by her purely biological usefulness to her species. To become literally a house, after all, is to be denied the hope of that spiritual transcendence of the body which, as Simone de Beauvoir has argued, is what makes humanity distinctively human” (88).

Chapter 6: Milton’s Bogey: Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers

“The enmity God sets between the woman and the serpent is thus the discord necessary to divide those who are not opposites or enemies but too much alike, too much attracted to each other. In addition, just as Satan feeds Eve with the forbidden fruit, so Eve–who is consistently associated with fruit, not only as Edenic chef but also as herself the womb or bearer of fruit–feeds the fruit to Adam. And finally, just as Satan’s was a fall from generation, its first consequence being the appearance of the material world of Sin and Death, so Eve’s (and not Adam’s) fall completes the human entry into generation, since its consequence is the pain of birth, death’s necessary opposite and mirror image” (197).

“In a patriarchal Christian context the pagan goddess Wisdom may, Milton suggests, become the loathesome demoness Sin, for the intelligence of heaven is made up exclusively of ‘Spirits Masculine,’ and the woman, like her dark double, Sin, is a ‘fair defect / Of Nature'” (198).

“…not only is Milton’s Satan in certain crucial ways very much like women, he is also (as we saw in connection with Austen’s glamorously Satanic anti-heroes) enormously attractive to women. Indeed…he is in most ways the incarnation of worldly male sexuality, fierce, powerful, experienced, simultaneously brutal and seductive, devilish enough to overwhelm the body and yet enough a fallen angel to charm the soul…giving orders and expecting homage to his ‘natural’–that is, masculine–superiority, as if he were God’s shadow self, the id of heaven, Satanically reduplicating the politics of paradise wherever he goes. And yet, wherever he goes, women follow him, even when they refuse to follow the God whose domination he parodies. As Sylvia Plath so famously noted, ‘Every woman adores a Fascist…'” (206).

“For if Eve is Sin’s as well as Satan’s double, then Satan is to Eve what he is to Sin–both a lover and a daddy” (207).

“…the woman writer may have secretly fantasized that she was Satan–or Cain, or Manfred, or Prometheus. But at the same time her feelings of female powerlessness manifested themselves in her conviction that the closest she could really get to being Satan was to be his creature, his tool, the witchlike daughter/mistress who sits at his right hand” (207).

“It is not insignificant, then, that the fruit of Satan’s solipsistic union with Sin is Death, just as death is the fruit of Manfred’s love for Astarte and ultimately–as we shall see–of all the incestuous neo-Satanic couplings envisioned by women writers from Mary Shelley to Sylvia Plath. To the extent that the desire to violate the incest taboo is a desire to be self-sufficient–self-begetting–it is a divinely interdicted wish to be ‘as Gods,’ like the desire for the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, whose taste also meant death” (209).

The poetry that the female writer “conceived might well appear to be a monster birth, like Satan’s horrible child Death” (210).

“Indeed, as a figure of the true artist, God’s emissary and defender on earth, Milton himself, as he appears in Paradise Lost, might well have seemed to female readers to be as much akin to God as they themselves were to Satan, Eve, or Sin” (210).

“Indeed, as a male poet justifying the ways of a male deity to male readers he rigorously excludes all females from the heaven of his poem, except insofar as he can beget new ideas upon their chaotic fecundity, like the Holy Spirit ‘brooding on the vast Abyss,’ and making it pregnant” (211).

“Virginia Woolf, living in a world where the dead female poet who was ‘Judith Shakespeare’ had laid aside her body so many times, made the same point in different words: ‘This [Paradise Lost] is the essence of which almost all other poetry is the dilution.’ Such an assertion might seem jubilant if made by a man. But the protean shadow of Milton’s bogey seems to darken the page as Woolf writes” (212).

Chapter 7: Horror’s Twin: Mary Shelley’s Monstrous Eve

“Since the appearance of Paradise Lost–even, in a sense, before–all women writers have been to some extent Milton’s daughters, continually wondering what their relationship to his patriarchal poetry ought to be and continually brooding upon alternative modes of daughterhood very much like those Dorothea describes [in Middlemarch]” (219).

“Many critics have noted that Frankenstein (1818) is one of the key Romantic ‘readings’ of Paradise Lost. Significantly, however, as a woman’s reading it is most especially a story of hell” (221).

Chapter 15: The Aesthetics of Renunciation

“[John Crowe] Ransom, for instance, asserts that Dickinson’s meters, learned from ‘her father’s hymnbook,’ are all based upon ‘Folk Line, the popular form of verse and the oldest in our language,’ adding that ‘the great classics of this meter are the English ballads and Mother Goose.’ Our instinctive sense that this is a backhanded compliment is confirmed when the critic remarks that ‘Folk Line is disadvantageous….if it denies to the poet the use of English Pentameter when that would be more suitable,’ for ‘Pentameter is the staple of what we may call the studied or ‘university’ poetry, and it is capable of containing and formalizing many kinds of substantive content which would be too complex for Folk Line. Emily Dickinson appears never to have tried it.’ If we read ‘pentameter’ here as a substitute for ‘classical studies,’ then we can see that once again ‘woman’ and ‘poet’ are being defined as mutually contradictory terms” (547).

“…in the pages of a novel a woman may exorcise or evade precisely the anxieties and hostilities that the direct, often confessional ‘I’ of poetry would bring her close to enacting in real life. If, as Joyce Carol Oates once suggested, fiction is a kind of structured daydreaming, lyric poetry is potentially, as Keats said, like ‘Adam’s dream–he awoke and found it truth.’ Even if the poet’s ‘I,’ then, is a ‘supposed person,’ the intensity of her dangerous impersonation of this creature may cause her to take her own metaphors literally, enact her themes herself: just as Donne really slept in his coffin, Emily Dickinson really wore white dresses for twenty years, and Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton really gassed themselves. Because of such metaphoric intensity, Woolf postulates, Judith Shakespeare–’who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?’–lies dead at a literary crossroads in the center of A Room of One’s Own. Yet she is not inalterably dead. For, as we shall see, many women poets have resurrected her unquiet spirit” (549).

“Such determined modesty [as Dickinson’s] must inevitably pose serious problems for a poet’s art, even when it is vulgarly ‘public’ to be Somebody. In Dickinson’s case, as we shall see later in greater detail, the literary consequenes of being Nobody were far-reaching indeed, ranging from a sometimes grotesquely childlike self-image to a painfully distorted sense of size, a perpetual gnawing hunger, and even, finally, a deep confusion about identity. Moreover, being Nobody had worldly consequences, and these may ultimately have been even more serious. Certainly Dickinson’s inability to persist in seeking publication, with her attendant rationalization that ‘Publication is the auction of the Mind of man,’ must have come from a conviction that Nobody probably should not publish poetry. The double negatives are significant, for multiple negatives seem to have built a formidable wall of societal grammar around this poet, a wall she herself almost completely sealed up when she decided, around 1866, to spend the rest of her life in her ‘smallest’ room with ‘just the door ajar’ between her and the forbidding world outside” (556).

“the aggressive masculinity which [Whitman] asserted so blatantly in the poems was only assumed–was, in fact, as much a ask or persona as Dickinson’s inoffensive, little ‘woman in white’ was a ‘supposed person'” (557).



Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

L. S. Klatt. “The Electric Whitman.” Southern Review, Spring 2008.

A young Whitman attended Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lecture “The Poet.” The essay “concluded with a stormy exhortation, a sermon, it seems, that Whitman took to heart:

“Doubt not, O poet, but persist: Say ‘It is in me, and shall out.’ Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until at last, rage draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a [poet] is the conductor of the whole river of electricity.

“Is it any wonder, then, that electrical imagery crackles and hums throughout even the earliest versions of Leaves of Grass?” (321).

“We can recognize in these examples an incarnation of Emerson’s ideal… Clearly, Whitman was prone to viewing himself as just such a messianic figure. He called Leaves of Grass his ‘Bible,’ and there are several instances where he appropriated the idiom and authoritative diction of the Gospels” (322).

“Emerson’s poet-conductor receives a power surge from the imagination and transmits that sensation to the audience; he is first and foremost a dreamer. But for Whitman, the impulse seems to originate directly from the world at large. The poet doesn’t invent as much as take in and reroute. With Emerson, the emphasis is on genius; with Whitman, conductivity and exchange” (322).

“In ‘Body Electric,’ the poet–once referred to by R. W. B. Lewis as the New American Adam–sanctions physical pleasure, and thereby sanctifies those he loves, ‘whoever [they] are.’ His is a prolific and plural intercourse, oblivious to the restrictions imposed by marriage or monogamy. The erratic, spontaneous self goes where attracted. The electric pulse of the soul–sexual, social, poetic–leaps out of bounds to its receptor” (324-5).

“…it is important to reiterate that, for Whitman, divinity is rooted in the physical universe. The divine power to make words is produced by an electric generator deep in the machinery of the kosmos” (325).

“Whitman proves to be disquietingly well suited for martial poetry. The extent to which he surrenders to ‘war ecstasy’ can even at times seem demonic… Yet surprisingly, the poet excited by hostilities also embraces the humanitarian impulse” (327).



Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Roberts, Gerald. “Hopkins, Patmore, and Women.” Hopkins Quarterly June 2014.

Hopkins and Patmore were good friends and while it isn’t clear that their work influenced the other’s, they occasionally edited and commented upon each other’s works.

“The presence of ‘heroic’ women in his poetry, drowning nuns, martyred saints, and of course the Virgin Mary incurs the (obvious) charge that he ‘seemed to admit only the possibility of two roles for women, the unearthly woman or the Medusa.’ While the first half of this claim is demonstrable, the relative absence of what may be called ‘ordinary’ women in his poetry (they exist aplenty in his prose) weakens the force of this tempting generalization. The truth is surely that Hopkins was drawn to the ideal in both sexes, and his poetry is similarly marked by the absence of ‘ordinary’ men…” (107).

“Hopkins’s favourite theme of ‘none good but God’ clearly suggests… a picture of feminine dependence which may well have appealed to Patmore” (107).

Martin, Meredith. “Gerard Manley Hopkins and Sacred Language.” Religion and Literature June 2013.

“Hopkins’s use of metrical marks were a fusion of etymological, spiritual, and national concerns, stressed all at once…Hopkins’s fascination with Old English connected his refusal to give up the mark in later poems with his theory that language could portray the instress of an entire people and, in the case of ‘Harry Ploughman,’ of an English man’s body” (167).

“If Barnes’s [‘common dialect,’ Anglo-Saxon rooted] grammar could be an incarnation of the living country, what if Hopkins’s poems could invoke English bodies that bore the dynamic energy–the marks–of salvation?” (167).

Cary Plotkin famously argues for “Hopkin’s obsession with speech over text,” or “the acoustical rather than the scriptural” (168).

“Hopkins exclaimed that his poems were ‘made away from paper’ and that he copied them into text ‘with repugnance.’ Yet he respected the history of sounds, and the history of the English language, to which his orthogrpahic symbols referred. Hopkins’s written representation of what he believed should be a ‘living speech’ must be read as part of his attempt to reach England – English souls and bodies – through a common ancestral and linguistic past” (173).

Beasley, Brett. “Hopkins’s Approach to Mortality and His Innovations in Poetic Form.” Hopkins Quarterly June 2014.

“Like his contemporaries, Hopkins sought comfort in the face of mortality, but he sought it in a unique way. Other Victorians sought comfort that could abstract them from the concrete reality of death. But Hopkins refuses to consider death in the abstract. He uses concrete images to represent death and the shadow it places over every human life. Thus, as other commentators have noticed, Hopkins rarely represents the afterlife in his poetry. Nor does he represent the disembodied soul or judgment before God” (80).

While Hopkins staunchly believed the Church’s teachings on the afterlife, “Hopkins found reason to emphasize death’s role as an existential horizon… Hopkins understood the value of thinking about death as a concrete event in a human life, as the end of all our possibilities and our projects. This makes death much more than a mere passage to the judgment and the afterlife that the Christian doctrine prepares us for” (80).

“Only by maintaining both the certainty and uncertainty of death in a productive tension can we keep death constantly ‘before us,’ allowing it to become what Kierkegaard called the ‘teacher of earnestness'” (80).

He accomplished this tension through his use of an “innovative and distinctive sonnet” form (80).

Michael Wheeler notes that Hopkins was able to “internalize what other poets earlier in the 19th century had attempted to describe as some kind of external reality” (81).

“Hopkins chooses the observable over the imagined, the embodied (including the senses) over the disembodied, and the particular over the uniform or general. Therefore, Hopkins’s work on death, I will be arguing, increasingly moves toward the less abstract end of each of these axes. His poems reject any special or exterior source of authority. The epistemological mode, then, is one of self knowledge. And finally, the result is not comfort but the uneasy, paradoxical mix of certainty and uncertainty that maintains one’s awareness of death without letting it cease to be a problem. Hopkins allows death to retain its significance as a concrete event not to be hastily dismissed with a theological or metaphysical solution” (82).

Hopkins did not often use the “seer” or “visionary” tradition because, despite that it focuses on the life and death of its protagonist and not that of someone remembered and external, “the protagonist’s life and death remain largely allegorical” (82).

John Henry Newman was Hopkins’s spiritual mentor.

“When we speak of ‘the form itself’ what we are principally talking about in Hopkins’s case is a ratio. He considered it perfectly acceptable to write both caudated sonnets as well as curtal sonnets so long as they maintained the traditional Italian ratio of 4:3 on either side of the volta or turn that typically separates the octave and sestet. But without this ratio, the sonnet is ‘crippled for life,’ as Hopkins once wrote” (92). “This meant, of course, that many English sonnets were sonnets in name only, not in form, strictly speaking” (92).

“Hopkins was so finely attuned to the feel of the sonnet that he expressed to Dixon his view that English sonnets could benefit from being slightly longer in their line length” (92).

Poetic Info

Hopkins was extremely innovative metrically. Most middle and modern English poetry is based in what Hopkins calls “running rhythm,” which was inherited from the Norman side of English linguistic heritage. This is based on repeating groups of two or three syllables, with the stressed syllable falling in the same place in each repetition. Although Hopkins used running rhythm occasionally, especially in his early poetry, he became much more interested in the older, Anglo-Saxon rhythmic tradition (of which Beowulf is famous). Hopkins called his own iteration of this rhythmic tradition “sprung rhythm.” Sprung rhythm is structured around feet with a variable number (usually 1-4) syllables per foot, and the stress always falls on the first syllable of the foot. Hopkins saw sprung rhythm as an escape from the constraints and homogeneity of running rhythm. (Sprung rhythm can be seen as a precursor to free verse.)


Dreiser, Sister Carrie

Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie. W. W. Norton. 1900.

“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility” (1).

“Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear!” (1).

“Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis” (2).

“A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject–the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman’s slipper” (2). (AD: She’s inevitably half-equipped as a knight, because she is a woman, and the world was not made for her, nor her kind of knighthood.)

[of Drouet] “Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing. A strong physical nature, actuated by a keen desire for the feminine, was the next. A mind free of any consideration of the problems or forces of the world and actuated not by greed, but an insatiable love of variable pleasure. His method was always simple. Its principal element was daring, backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex” (3).

“A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There is an indescribably faint line in the matter of man’s apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not” (4).

“She was not silly, and yet attention of this sort had its weight” (5).

[of Drouet] “Such a purse had never been carried by any one attentive to her” (5) (AD: strange roundabout metonymic representation of Drouet’s affection for her accessible only through clothing / capital consumption)

“It must not be thought that any one could have mistaken her for a nervous, sensitive, high-strung nature, cast unduly upon a cold, calculating, and unpoetic world. Such certainly she was not. But women are peculiarly sensitive to their adornment” (16).

“She realised in a dim way how much light the city held–wealth, fashion, ease–every adornment for women, and she longed for dress and beauty with a whole heart” (17).

“This place was grimy and low, the girls were careless and hardened. They must be bad-minded and hearted, she imagined” (19).

“Naturally timid in all things that related to her own advancement, and especially so when without power or resource, her craving for pleasure was so strong that it was the one stay of her nature. She would speak for that when silent on all else” (23).

“She made the average feminine distinction between clothes, putting worth, goodness, and distinction in a dress suit, and leaving all the unlovely qualities and those beneath notice in overalls and jumper” (29).

“Drouet, for one, was lured as much by his longing for pleasure as by his desire to shine among his betters” (34).

“Yet here is the fact of the lighted chamber, the dressy, greedy company, the small, self-interested palaver, the disorganized, aimless, wandering mental action which it represents–the love of light and show and finery which, to one outside, under the serene light of the eternal stars, must seem a strange and shiny thing. Under the stars and sweeping night winds, what a lamp-flower it must bloom; a strange, glittering night-flower, odour- yielding, insect-drawing, insect-infested rose of pleasure” (35).

“Transplantation is not always successful in the matter of flowers or maidens. It requires sometimes a richer soil, a better atmosphere to continue even a natural growth” (39).

[of Drouet]

“I’ll loan it to you–that’s all right. I’ll loan it to you.”

He made her take it. She felt bound to him by a strange tie of affection now. They went out, and he walked with her as far out south toward Polk Street, talking” (45).

“The true meaning of money yet remains to be popularly explained and comprehended. When each individual realises for himself that this thing primarily stands for and should only be accepted as a moral due–that it should be paid out as honestly stored energy, and not as a usurped privilege–many of our social, religious, and political troubles will have permanently passed. As for Carrie, her understanding of the moral significance of money was the popular understanding, nothing more. The old definition: ‘Money: something everybody else has and I must get,’ would have expressed her understanding of it thoroughly. Some of it she now held in her hand–two soft, green ten-dollar bills–and she felt that she was immensely better off for the having of them. It was something that was power in itself” (45). (AD: and it is a traditionally male power.)

[of Drouet] “He gave her the money out of a good heart–out of a realisation of her want. He would not have given the same amount to a poor young man, but we must not forget that a poor young man could not, in the nature of things, have appealed to him like a poor young girl. Femininity affected his feelings. He was the creature of an inborn desire. Yet no beggar could have caught his eye and said, ‘My God mister, I’m starving,’ but he would gladly have handed out what was considered the proper portion to give beggars and thought no more about it. There would have been no speculation, no philosophizing” (46). (AD: re: Hurstwood later as a beggar)

“The unintellectual are not so helpless. Nature has taught the beasts of the field to fly when some unheralded danger threatens. She has put into the small, unwise head of the chipmunk the untutored fear of poisons. ‘He keepeth His creatures whole,’ was not written of beasts alone. Carrie was unwise, and, therefore, like the sheep in its unwisdom, strong in feeling. The instinct of self-protection, strong in all such natures, was roused but feebly, if at all, by the overtures of Drouet” (46). (AD: so is Carrie an untutored beast or not? Does the lack of instinct put her above or below the beasts?)

Man desires woman in finery (which is to say his wealth mirrored)

Woman desires finery (which is to say herself objectified)

“Among the forces which sweep and play throughout the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind. Our civilisation is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him aligned by nature with the forces of life–he is born into their keeping and without thought he is protected. We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts dulled by too near an approach to free-will, his free-will not sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance. He is becoming too wise to hearken always to instincts and desires; he is still too weak to always prevail against them. As a beast, the forces of life aligned him with them; as a man, he has not yet wholly learned to align himself with the forces. In this intermediate stage he wavers–neither drawn in harmony with nature by his instincts nor yet wisely putting himself into harmony by his own free-will. He is even as a wisp in the wind, moved by every breath of passion, acting now by his will and now by his instincts, erring with one, only to retrieve by the other, falling by one, only to rise by the other–a creature of incalculable variability. We have the consolation of knowing that evolution is ever in action, that the ideal is a light that cannot fail. He will not forever balance thus between good and evil. When this jangle of free-will and instinct shall  have been adjusted, when perfect understanding has given the former the power to replace the latter entirely, man will no longer vary. The needle of understanding will yet point steadfast and unwavering to the distant pole of truth.

In Carrie–as in how many of our worldlings do they not?–instinct and reason, desire and understanding, were at war for the mastery. She followed whither her craving led. She was as yet more drawn than she drew” (54). (AD: Carrie’s implication in this monologue complicated by her femininity and absence from the universal “he”.)

[of Drouet] “That worthy had his future fixed for him beyond a peradventure. He could not help what he was going to do” (55). (AD: Is anyone governed by their actions or is it just fate?)

“Carrie had no excellent home principles fixed upon her. If she had, she would have been more consciously distressed. Now the lunch went off with considerable warmth. Under the influence of the varied occurrences, the fine, invisible passion which was emanating from Drouet, the food, the still unusual luxury, she relaxed and heard with open ears. She was again the victim of the city’s hypnotic influence” (58). (AD: she is a victim of something she cannot control. The city / fate. What does her agency mean? Her actions? Are we to blame her? Why do we kind of dislike her, then?)

“A lovely home atmosphere is one of the flowers of the world, than which there is nothing more tender, nothing more delicate, nothing more calculated to make strong and just the natures cradled and nourished within it. Those who have never experienced such a beneficent influence will not understand wherefore the tear springs glistening to the eyelids at some strange breath in lovely music. The mystic chords which bind and thrill the heart of the nation, they will never know.

Hurstwood’s residence could scarcely be said to be infused with this home spirit” (60).

[of Hurstwood] “Once in a while he would meet a woman whose youth, sprightliness, and humour would make his wife seem rather deficient by contrast, but the temporary dissatisfaction which such an encounter might arouse would be counterbalanced by his social position and a certain matter of policy” (63).

“[Hurstwood’s] confidence in the sex was not great” (64).

“In the light of the world’s attitude toward woman and her duties, the nature of Carrie’s mental state deserves consideration. Actions such as hers are measured by an arbitrary scale. Society possesses a conventional standard whereby it judges all things. All men should be good, all women virtuous. Wherefore, villain, hast thou failed?” (65).

“Her conscience, however, was not a Drouet, interested to praise. There she heard a different voice, with which she argued, pleaded, excused. It was no just and sapient counsellor, in its last analysis. It was only an average little conscience, a thing which represented the world, her past environment, habit, convention, in a confused way. With it, the voice of the people was truly the voice of God… It was when Carrie was alone, looking out across the park, that she would be listening to this. It would come infrequently–when something else did not interfere, when the pleasant side was not too apparent, when Drouet was not there. It was somewhat clear in utterance at first, but never wholly convincing. There was always an answer, always the December days threatened. She was alone; she was desireful; she was fearful of the whistling wind. The voice of want made answer for her” (67).

“If we could have such a home as that,” said Mrs. Hale sadly, “how delightful it would be.”

“And yet they do say,” said Carrie, “that no one is ever happy.”

She had heard so much of the canting philosophy of the grapeless fox” (83).

“People in general attach too much importance to words. They are under the illusion that talking effects great results. As a matter of fact, words are, as a rule, the shallowest portion of all the argument. They but dimly represent the great surging feelings and desires which lie behind. When the distraction of the tongue is removed, the heart listens. In this conversation she heard, instead of his words, the voices of the things which he represented. How suave was the counsel of his appearance! How feelingly did his superior state speak for itself! The growing desire he felt for her lay upon her spirit as a gentle hand” (83-4).

“She was too full of wonder and desire to be greedy. She still looked about her upon the great maze of the city without understanding. Hurstwood felt the bloom and the youth. He picked her as he would the fresh fruit of a tree. HE felt as fresh in her presence as one who is taken out of the flash of summer to the first cool breath of spring” (88).

“It was an important thing to her to hear one so well-positioned and powerful speaking in this manner. She could not help feeling the strangeness of her situation. How was it that, in so little a while, the narrow life of the country had fallen from her as a garment, and the city, with all its mystery, taken its place” (92).

“At present, Hurstwood had only a thought of pleasure without responsibility. He did not feel that he was doing anything to complicate his life. His position was secure, his home-life, if not satisfactory, was at least undisturbed, his personal liberty untrammeled. Carrie’s love represented only so much added pleasure. He would enjoy this new gift over and above his ordinary allowance of pleasure. He would be happy with her and his own affairs would go on as they had, undisturbed” (94).

she asks “but what can I do?” (106). (AD: indeed, what are her options as a woman? Especially if fate is controlling all of this?)

“…you shall know of what is the atmosphere of the high and mighty. Little use to argue that of such is not the kingdom of greatness, but so long as the world is attracted by this and the human heart views this as the one desirable realm which it must attain, so long, to that heart, will this remain the realm of greatness” (206).

[of Ames] “She felt as if she would like to be agreeable to this young man, and also there came with it, or perhaps preceded it, the slightest shade of a feeling that he was better educated than she was–that his mind was better. He seemed to look it, and the saving grace in Carrie was that she could understand that people could be wiser” (226). (AD: Looking it is, practically, the same as being it; it has the same result on Carrie.)

“If she were a fine actress, such men as he would approve of her” (229).

[of her encounter with Ames] “The immediate result of this was nothing. Results from such things are usually long in growing. Morning brings a change of feeling. The existent condition invariably pleads for itself. It is only at odd moments that we get glimpses of the misery of things. The heart understands when it is confronted with contrasts. Take them away and the ache subsides” (230). “…she had no ideal to contrast men by–particularly men close to her” (230).

“[Hurstwood] had never learned that a person might be emotionally–instead of intellectually–great” (261).

“Timid as Carrie was, she was strong in capability. The reliance of others made her feel as if she must, and when she must she dared. Experience of the world and of necessity was in her favour. No longer the lightest word of a man made her head dizzy. She had learned that men could change and fail. Flattery in its most palpable for had lost its force with her. It required superiority–kindly superiority–to move her–the superiority of a genius like Ames” (303).

“It does not take money long to make plain its impotence, providing the desires are in the realm of affection. With her one hundred and fifty in hand, Carrie could think of nothing particularly to do. In itself, as a tangible, apparent thing which she could touch and look upon, it was a diverting thing for a few days, but this soon passed” (320).

“Oh, Carrie, Carrie! Oh, blind strivings of the human heart! Onward, onward, it saith, and where beauty leads, there it follows. Whether it be the tinkle of a lone sheet bell o’er some quiet landscape, or the glimmer of beauty in sylvan places, or the show of soul in some passing eye, the heart knows and makes answer, following. It is when the feat weary and hope seems vain that the heartaches and the longings arise. Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel” (355; last paragraph).

–What should she have done? Could she have done anything differently? Could she be content?

–Where is the sex in this book.

Dreiser, Theodore. “Sisters and Suitors,” from A History of Myself

Carrie’s character is based on real events that happened to Dreiser’s sister Emma when he was young.

“Moral problems such as the lives of my several sisters presented to me had no great weight. And have not now–any more than do those of other men’s sisters or daughters. It is the way of life, however much socially it may be denied, concealed, or disguised. At times, assuming I heard someone else discussing them moralistically–my father, say–I was inclined to experience a depression or reduction in pride which as purely osmatic–a process of emotional absorption–no more. Had I not heard someone else criticizing, I would not have been so moved. And yet, at times, and because of this, I had the notion that they were not doing right; that men (this must have been gathered from my father’s many preachments) were using them as mere playthings; but most of the time I had a feeling that they were their own masters, or might be if they would. Also that perhaps they enjoyed being playthings. Why not? And through it all ran the feeling that good, bad, or indifferent as individuals or things might be, life was a splendid surge, a rich sensation, and that it was fine to be alive. And in so far as my sister Janet was concerned, my final feeling was that she was prosperous and individual and perhaps as well off as some others, if not more so” (382).

“…by reason of criticism on the part of others–taboos and the like–and however generally evaded or ignored–we do not prefer to contemplate these youthful sex variations, either in real life or in literature. And yet, how common!” (382).

Theodore Dreiser, “True Art Speaks Plainly”

“The sum and substance of literary as well as social morality may be expressed in three words–tell the truth. It matters not how the tongues of the critics may wag, or the voices of a partially developed and highly conventionalized society may complain, the business of the author, as well as of other workers upon this earth, is to say what he knows to be true, and, having said as much, to abide the result with patience.

Truth is what is; and the seeing of what is, the realization of truth. To express what we see honestly and without subterfuge: this is morality as well as art” (469).

Otis Notman, “Mr. Dreiser,” from “Talks with Four Novelists,” in New York Times Review of Books 15 June 1907.

“I simply want to tell about life as it is. Every human life is intensely interesting. If the human being has ideals, the struggle and the attempt to realize those ideals, the going back on his own trail, the failure, the success, the reason for the individual failure, the individual success–all these things are interesting, interesting even where there are no ideals, where there is only the personal desire to survive, the fight to win, the stretching out of the fingers to grasp–these are the things I want to write about–life as it is, the facts as they exist, the game as it is played! I said I was pointing out no moral. Well, I am not, unless this is a moral–that all humanity must stand together and war against and overcome the forces of nature. I think a time is coming when personal gain will rarely be sought at the expense of some one else” (471).

“Here is a book that is close to life. It is intended not as a piece of literary craftsmanship, but as a picture of conditions done as simply and effectively as the English language will permit…When it gets to the people they will understand, because it is a story of real life, of their lives” (471).

Markels, Julian. “Dreiser and the Plotting of Inarticulate Experience.” The Massachusetts Review 2 (Spring 1961).

“Not consistently but in long and powerful sequences, Dreiser’s plot construction results in a fully credible image of human experience as an amoral process; it implies the possibility of human purpose and dignity arising out of a necessary immersion in this process; and hence Dreiser’s method excludes the deterministic pathos of the conventional naturalistic novel, which conceives of human experience as the closing of a trap rather than the unfolding of a process” (474).

“focus on ‘manners’ as the primary stuff of experience” (476).

Characters repreesent not dramatic persona but a “Gestalt” (478).

Moers, Ellen. “The Finesse of Dreiser,” from American Scholar 33 (Winter 1963-4).

“Carrie hardly talks or thinks, but the warmth of her presence must be at the center of every scene in which she appears. To the men around her she must, without words, respond; here as everywhere, she smiles” (484).

“What is at stake is not Carrie’s survival but her growth. …The whole cold-warmth pattern has been cued to the reader with a sentence about the difficulty of transplantation ‘in the matter of flowers or maidens,’ which focuses our attention on Carrie as an organism, significantly a plant rather than an animal, whose response to temptation will be less conscious than instinctive” (485).

Robert Penn Warren’s review of Sister Carrie 

“Sex, love, appetite, loyalty–all feelings seem to shrivel to meaninglessness before the cold objective law of success and failure” (490).


Carrie eventually becomes the object that is sold (an image and stage-experience) rather than collecting them herself. The self is inextricable from its objects, and from the success and failure of its objects.

People and relationships, like objects, have a natural product life and eventually wear out. Perhaps even are designed to wear out and be replaced.

“Consumer Seduction”

Products used properly is products used up and discarded.



Christ, Victorian and Modern Poetics

Christ, Carol. Victorian & Modern Poetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1984. 

Many critics of Victorian poetry “assimilat[e] Victorian poetry to a Romantic tradition in…that the poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be seen as a poetry of experience” (2). [re: Langbaum]

“Both Arnold and Tennyson use myth and legend to attain a resonance and objectivity greater than mere personal emotion could offer. Browning and Tennyson evolve forms of the dramatic monologue to separate the poet from the poem and thus objectify its presentation of personality. Likewise the chief Modernist poets seek an objective basis for poetry’s presentation of emotion… Like the Victorians, he [Eliot] uses the dramatic monologue extensively, and he seeks first in myth, then in orthodox Christianity, an objective means of structuring and evaluating the particulars of history” (3).

“Even Yeats, the most Romantic of the Modernists, uses the supernatural to validate mask and symbol. Like the Victorians, the Modernists modify their Romantic heritage by seeking a more objective basis for poetic discourse. In so doing they evolve poetic strategies that resemble those of the Victorians: constructs of mask and persona which, like the Victorian dramatic monologue, distance the poem from the poet; theories of image and symbol which identify sensuous perception with the qualities of objects themselves; theories of language which emphasize its transparency as a medium for sensation; structures of myth and history which provide a narrative that contains and gives significance to personalities. Despite their anti-Victorianism, Modernist poets explore ways of objectifying poetry that show striking continuity with Victorian poetics” (3).

“The Victorians and the Modernists, as we shall see, react with varying degrees of discomfort to the Romantic conception of the imagination, but they are nonetheless concerned in their poetry with mental acts” (4).

“The focus upon mental action and upon the image shows how central the relationship of subject and object is to Romantic poetry and thought. In the classic statement of Romantic poetics, M. H. Abrams argues that the Romantics understand the activity of the perceiving mind not as a mirror reflecting the external world but as a lamp projecting its light, creating as it sees, and thus unifying subject and object” (4-5).

“The fear implicit in Romanticism that we may fail to know the objects of our consciousness, that we may realize only an eccentric and personal reality, motivates Victorian attempts to turn from what they perceive as a disabling focus upon the self” (5).

“The Victorians’ concern with what they feel are the dangers of Romantic subjectivity explains their various attempts to construct an epistemology which derives the feeling with which we respond to objects from the qualities of objects themselves” (6).

“Other Victorian artists share Arnold’s desire to verify feeling from the real qualities of objects”(7).

“The idea which both [Victorian and Modern] poets construct of Romanticism enables them to shift the burden of personality to a discredited past while it allows them to claim a more authoritative and objective foundation for their own poetics” (10).

“Much as the Victorians and the Modernists resist the limitation with which the poet’s personal voice seemed to restrict the poem, they far the dangers of a private and personal symbolism. Accordingly they strive to develop theories of the image in poetry which establish some objective ground for the feeling it generates… both Victorians and Modernists seek in tradition some objective structure to contain their dramatization of psychological experience” (12).

“…the break between the two periods has been exaggerated and the historical continuity obscured” (13).

The Modernist poets: “Each sees himself as rescuing poetry from Victorianism” (13).

“The origin of the dramatic monologue is a question of critical debate. Some writers treat it as a new form originating in the Victorian period; others trace it to varied precedents…” (16).

“In The Poetry of Experience, Robert Langbaum has given one important and suggestive answer to this question. The dramatic monologue, he argues, originates when the Victorian poet writes a Romantic lyric of experience in the voice of a character separate from his own. Like the Romantic lyric, the dramatic monologue contains a disequilibrium between experience and idea. The form forces upon us a conflict between sympathy and judgment. The conflict embodies the nineteenth-century poet’s conviction that imaginative apprehension gained through immediate experience is primary and certain, whereas the analytic reflection that follows is secondary and problematical. The way in which the dramatic monologue emphasizes the primacy of experience explains why twentieth-century poets also find the form so congenial and continue its development” (16).

[re: Browning’s “My Last Duchess”]

“The speaker’s desire for primacy and preeminence, what he calls his complete ‘commanding, for commanding’ (817), repeatedly fills him with self-revulsion at the same time that he is unable to dispossess himself of it…Browning responded to the conflict with which this egoism presented him by rejecting what seemed to him the subjective mode of Romantic confessional poetry for the more objective mode of the dramatic monologue. Whenever Browning described the dramatic nature of his poetry, he emphasized that his poems did not concern himself… By detaching these ‘utterances’ from his own person, he avoids presenting problems of self-consciousness in his own voice, but he remains preoccupied with such problems in the voices he creates” (19).

“Robert Langbaum has observed that dramatic monologues have no necessary beginnings and endings, but arbitrary limits. As Langbaum implies, the poems rarely progress; the speaker seldom reaches a realization by the end of the poem unavailable to him in the beginning. Rather, the form has a circling quality that reveals by its repetitions the fixed elements of the speaker’s identity… Browning thus uses the dramatic monologue to portray the ways in which the self circumscribes its world” (21).

“Browning thus stresses the historical moment, the contextual relativity, the evanescent quality of any lyrical utterance. His entire poetic enterprise in this way questions the nature and truth value of man’s speaking for himself. Donning mask after mask, Browning explores the extension and limits of egoism” (22).

“Browning solves the dilemma of speech’s lie by a spiritual vitalism which erupts through language though it is separate from it” (24).

“The form of the dramatic monologue thus allows Browning to mediate and control a number of related tensions. Because the dramatic monologue portrays an individual speaking at the same time that it composes a dramatic event, it can mediate between the subjective and the objective” (25).

“Tennyson’s poems, unlike Browning’s, Culler argues, do not attempt to show individuality of character but phases of passion. They intend no irony; they evoke only wonder at the power of the passion and the skill with which the poet has realized its display” (26).

“Tennyson’s poems do not contain the elaborate irony of Browning’s dramatic monologues, emphasizing the distance between the speaker’s actual words and our understanding of those words. But they do achieve irony of another sort. Tennyson uses either narrative or legend to associate his speakers with madness or delusion. The story of Maud, the place of the Lotos-Eaters in the Odyssey, the portrait of Ulysses in the Inferno, the history of Fatima all identify their characters with some derangement. Tennyson thus dissociates himself from the emotion he depicts and makes it appear dangerous, excessive, forbidden. By this dissociation, Tennyson, like Browning, uses the dramatic monologue to control and objectify the potential solipsism of personal vision” (26).

“Like Browning, [Tennyson] uses the dramatic monologue to explore the possibilities of solipsism which the Romantic imagination involves. The form offers him similar resources. By providing a means of objectifying self-absorption, it allows him to distance and control the dangers implicit for him in a poetry conceived as an allegory of the state of the poet’s mind” (28).

“Tennyson’s poems rarely alter the perspective of the stories they employ; rather they use it to control the exploration of dangerous emotion. Swinburne’s dramatic monologues, on the other hand, are often deliberately revisionary” (29).

“There was a growing conviction throughout the century, reflected in Tennyson’s and Browning’s dramatic monologues, that the self can know nothing but its own experiences” (30). (AD: vs. Modern pastiche of history)

“While Tennyson and Browning used the dramatic monologue both to express and evade the limitation of personality, Wilde uses the concept of the mask to transcend it. HE emphasizes not the poet’s distance from his voices, but the experience those voices allow him to encompass” (32).

“Wilde’s conception of the mask strikingly anticipates Modernist poetics. Modernist poets take a poetic form predominant in Victorian poetry and develop from it a systematic concept of voice which enables them at once to express and transcend the restriction which individual personality imposes and the historical and individual particularity which any poem possesses. Like Wilde, Modernist poets make of the concept of voice not merely a poetic strategy but an idea of personality that motivates poetic expression. In this, they develop the radical implications of Victorian poetic practice. Yeats, Pound, and Eliot each use an idea of persona to contain contradictions similar to those which the dramatic monologue expresses in Victorian poetry” (32).

“Yeats seeks personae that like the mask can give a supernatural authority to their words and that have access to emotions with a radical purity and energy to which he could not lay claim” (38).

“By constructing a lyric of multiple voices, Yeats can contain conflicts between particularcircumstance and eternal vision, subject and object, self and mask without forcing their resolution… In his project to relate personal imaginative energy to an eternal world of symbol, Yeats is essentially a Romantic” (40).

“Like Yeats, Pound attributes the difficulty in speaking in one’s own voice to an alienation from the surrounding culture. In an explanation of the origin of myth, he argues that myth arises from the need to objectify personal emotion in the face of an unbelieving audience…” (40). (AD: see “Gaudier-Brzka”)

“The elegiac moods which Tennyson’s and Eliot’s poems express display remarkably similar patterns. Like Tennyson, unlike Browning, Eliot does not engage his characters in mad projections of the will to control the world. Rather, his characters doubt that there can be meaningful interchange between the world and the self…” (47).

“There is a striking parallel between the avoidance of action in Eliot’s poetry and the avoidance of agency in his criticism, although they express opposing impulses” (49).

“In his preoccupation with the solipsism of the individual imagination and in his evasion of the connection between a poet and his personae, Eliot is the closest of the principal Modernist poets to the Victorian poetic tradition. Like Browning and Tennyson, he uses the dramatic monologue to express a fear that self-consciousness, far from offering the access to universals which the Romantic hoped, confirms the reality of man’s self-imprisonment” (50).

“In his essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets,’ Eliot criticizes the Victorians for a dissociation of thought and feeling. In one of his essays defining imagism, Pound complains that the Victorians made poetry ‘the ox-cart and post-chaise for transmitting thoughts poetic or otherwise.’ The ideal against which all three [Modernist] poets measure the achievement of the Victorians is a non-discursive poetry of the image. Yeats calls it pure poetry. Eliot calls it ‘direct sensuous apprehension of thought.’ Pound calls it ‘an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.’ These three definitions have in common the insistence that ideas as ideas have no place in poetry, that poetry presents images that are themselves their meaning” (53).

“He [Tennyson] wishes not to involve the reader in the kind of understanding or reflection that a cognitively dense verbal medium encourages but to bring the reader to re-experience that moment when sensation and emotion seem one. His poetry anticipates impressionism in striving to combine sense impressions in such a way that it captures the very moment when sensation becomes feeling” (58). (AD: the same has been said of Modernist poetry: see Yeats slide.)

John Stuart Mill “praises Tennyson’s power ‘of creating scenery, in keeping with some state of human feeling; so fitted to it as to be the embodied symbol of it, and to summon up the state of feeling itself, with a force not to be surpassed by anything but reality” (60).

“Tennyson’s impressionism…involves a distrust of the cognitive element of language, but implies an enormous faith in the representational power of sound” (61).

“Like Tennyson in his early poetry, they want a poetry of sensation becoming emotion without discourse, and they have equivalent problems, I shall argue, in their search for some objective validation of the image. Only Yeats, I think, successfully overcame the split between subject and object that was the Victorian poetic heritage, and he did it by returning to the very that were anathema to Eliot and Pound–discourse and a Romantic theory of the imagination” (63).

“Yeats resolves the problem of the image in much the same way that he resolves the problem of voice. He still seeks the objectivity that characterizes modern poetry, but he incorporates the objective realm of symbols, like the mask, into a lyric of multiple voice whose organizing principle is the imagination. In contrast to Yeats, Eliot and Pound never evolve such a theory of the imagination. Much like the Victorians, they strive to create a poetics that gives objective equivalents and validation to feeling” (82).

“In discussing ‘In a Station of the Metro,’ [Pound] expresses his intention in the following way: ‘In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.’ I have already suggested in discussing Pound’s formulation in the context of the Victorian tradition that the statement contains an ambiguity in its verbs ‘transforms itself’ and ‘darts into.’ Like the Victorians, Pound assumes that objects have within themselves the power to produce specific emotional resonances which the artist manipulates” (93).

“In order to experience this impression appropriately, the reader must allow the images to ‘fall into his memory successively without questioning the reasonableness of each at the moment; so that, at the end, a total effect is produced.’ Eliot here never mentions morality or ultimate conclusions; rather, poetry offers a ‘total effect,’ a sequence of impressions whose logic the reader can re-experience and thus understand” (146-7).

“Nonetheless, Modernist criticism of Victorian didacticism, like their criticisms of Victorian rhetoric, at once articulate a Romantic ideal of the way that poetry presents experience and express fears of its failure. Eliot’s definition of the act of reading, whereby the reader allows the images to impress themselves upon him in order to experience the ‘total effect,’ has precedents in Victorian poetics and roots in Romanticism” (147).

“Much as Arnold recommended, Modernist poets use the resources of poetry to create the lost cultural unity necessary to the psychological wholeness their earlier poetics envisions. Their attacks on Victorian didacticism, much like their attacks on Victorian rhetoric, express anger at the failure to attain the unified sensibility they desire. In their own turn toward the discursive definition of unified culture in their poetry, they paradoxically follow the pattern the Victorians had followed before them. The idea of Victorianism, then, provides the Modernists with a way of historically polarizing a conflict to which the goals of their own poetics ultimately lead them. They identify Victorian poetry with the didactic pressure which operates ultimately on them as well, while they identify Modernism with the ideal of the unified sensibility which we have seen as an important element of Victorian poetics. This historical polarization leads them to simplify much Victorian poetry…Although Victorian poetics contains many of the elements from which the Modernists were to build their poetic revolution, the Modernists characteristically misread Victorian poetry, identifying it with the failures which would most defeat their own enterprise” (149).

“One way of making it new, as Pound desired, was to create a caricature of the immediate past which could then be enlisted to prove one’s claim to modernity” (157).