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Library Journal Review
The reclusive Emily Dickinson and her poetry has been the thought-provoking subject of never-ending scrutiny. Mitchell (Norwegian Univ. of Science and Technology) here offers an exhaustive interpretation centered around the cultural (social, economic, political), religious, and biographical details of the poet's life--her home, her flowers, her publication (or lack thereof), her manuscripts, and her handwriting. Minutely analyzing the effect of exterior forces on Dickinson's poetry, Mitchell concludes that the poet was more aware of outside realities than has been believed; she was, he claims, not so isolated from the facts of the world as scholars have previously suggested. This book may prove to be invaluable to Dickinson scholars, helping to illuminate this magnetic figure.--Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Critics of Dickinson typically characterize her as a homebound, reclusive, isolated writer of lyrics devoid of social, economic, or political allusions. However, Mitchell argues that Dickinson's poems "have more to do with issues of class, immigration, ethnicity, industrialization, the mass-market, and democratic politics than first appears" and that a true understanding of her writing requires recovering its historical contexts. In the first half of the book, Mitchell explores Dickinson's response to new technology (especially the railroad), her ideas of "home," her embrace of culture (especially high or elite culture), and her fondness for flowers and plants. In the second half, he discusses the poet's manuscripts and autograph anthologies (i.e., fascicles), considering the implications of Dickinson's decision not to print her poems. The Dickinson who emerges is obsessed by status, privilege, refinement; her politics often seem conservative, even reactionary. However, Mitchell identifies signs of "opposite tendencies," of liberal opinions. A key contention, important to anyone who wishes to comprehend one of the most formidable achievements in the history of US poetry, is that Dickinson's socioeconomic background is just as important as her gender. A fresh, thought-provoking analysis and the best contextualization of the poet's work since the appearance of David S. Reynolds's Beneath the American Renaissance (CH, Sep'88). All academic libraries. D. D. Kummings; University of Wisconsin--Parkside