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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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4. Evaluation 167


4. Evaluation In their death-poems Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti adopt a multitude of different perspectives and present an almost infinite variety of aspects, though concentrating on a single theme: both explore the physical as well as the psychological and emotional facets of death; both present death from the point of view of the living, the dying, and the dead; both focus on the multidimensional character of death - its ruthlessness and cruelty, its almighty destructive power, its inevitability and finality, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, also its levelling and equalizing effect, its security and safety, its instructive and liberating power, its rest and peace, as underlined by various personifications of death; both record the successive stages of the drama of death: the approach of death - the crucial moment when life and death hang in the balance - the actual act of dying - the necessary activities in the aftermath of death - the funeral - the onset of eternity; both run the full emotive range from joyful ecstasy to numb despair, from fearful awe to fascinated horror, from frustrated tension to hopeful release. As the individual chapters arranged under 3.1 to 3.6 have adequately shown, the analogies in their treatment of death become overridingly apparent in the general characteristics, both positive and negative, applied to death (chapter 3 .I), in the identificatory function of somebody else's death (chapter 3.2), in the gap between the living and the dead that ccumot be filled by anything...

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