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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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2. Dickinson, Rossetti, and their obsession with death - the biographical and historical background 21


2. Dickinson, Rossetti, and their obsession with death - the biographical and historical background "From the time when Emily Dickinson first began to write poetry until her last fading pencil marks on tattered bits of paper, the mystery of death absorbed her." 1 "Miss Rossetti's genius was essentially sombre, or it wrote itself at least on a dark background of gloom. The thought of death had a constant fascination for her, almost such a fascination as it had for Leopardi or Baudelaire ... "2 In December, 1830, two women poets were born on opposite shores of the Atlantic: Christina Georgina Rossetti at No. 38 Charlotte Street, Portland Place, London on December 5th and Emily Elizabeth Dickinson in the Dickinson Homestead on Main Street, Amherst, Massachusetts on December 1Oth. Though separated by an ocean, these two women had a great deal in common: both present exaggerated examples of retiring women who entered, before middle age, a fast seclusion;3 both sought escape from a male-dominated society and a life of restricted activity by sacrificing the traditional role of wife and mother; both found this escape in poetry, working chiefly from what they themselves experienced in reality or, much more often, within the imagination; both were concerned with a struggle for peace of mind, concentrating on introspection and the inner life Bingham, Millicent Todd (ed.), Bolts of Melody. New York 1945, p. 5 2 Miles, Alfred H. (ed.), The Poets and the Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 9: Christina G. Rossetti to...

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