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The Death-Motif in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti


Claudia Ottlinger

While Emily Dickinson as a forerunner of modern American poetry has met with a good critical response, Christina Rossetti is still regarded as a minor Victorian poet. Despite all their biographical, religious and poetic differences the comparative approach is appropriate for shedding new light on these two women's poetic output, which is preoccupied with death, and for displaying their cultural divergences as well as their transcultural affinities. Based on a new typology and with reference to 220 primary texts, this book highlights Dickinson's and Rossetti's supremely complex view of death, characterized by an enormous amount of shifting emphases and perspectives and focussing on the lyrical I that oscillates between fear and fascination, numb despair and welcome release.


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1. Introduction and critical assessment of research on Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti 9


1. Introduction and critical assessment of research on Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti The title of this dissertation sufficiently indicates its purpose - to draw a comparison between Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti with regard to the death-motif which is predominant in their poetry. Amazingly enough, scholars have virtually ignored the striking analogies between Dickinson and Rossetti and only a tiny amount of literature can be found that is concerned with a comparison between the two.1 Emily Dickinson's poetry, almost unpublished in her lifetime,2 has been much more fully worked on than Christina Rossetti's. After her death in 1886, her younger sister Lavinia discovered her manuscripts sewed together into packets and was determined to find someone who would undertake the task of publishing them. Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of a professor at Amherst College and the mistress of Emily's elder brother Austin, agreed to prepare them for publication with the assistance of Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a highly reputed essayist and lecturer with whom Dickinson had corresponded for several years. Collaborating, they brought out a selection of 115 poems in 1890. Encouraged by the success of this limited publication, they issued Poems, Second Series in 1891. Poems, Third Series was edited in 1896 by Mrs. Todd alone, who also published a Diehl, Joanne Feit, "'Come Slowly-Eden': An Exploration of Women Poets and Their Muse", Signs. Journal ofWomen in Culture and Society, Vol. 3, 1978, pp. 572-587 Homans, Margaret, "'Syllables of Velvet': Dickinson, Rossetti, and the Rhetorics of Sexuality"...

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