Year

1999

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of English - Faculty of Arts

Abstract

Emily Dickinson's collected correspondence creates an autobiographical record of her textual self-construction. Despite her reclusive lifestyle, correspondence permitted communication with a dispersed and select readership. Her epistolary personae construct this accessible presence despite her physical withdrawal. This dissertation explores how her interpersonal textual strategies closely follow the kinds of interactions sought in face-to-face encounters to form intimate, lasting friendships. The complex philosophical issues associated with self-consciousness and identity are enacted and discussed in Dickinson's letters because her textual self-construction became a significant relational activity. Identity construction and role-play allowed her to speak in a society that pressured women to remain silent. Her roles as letter-writer, storyteller, intimate confidante, thinker, and poet will be closely examined here. Besides these epistolary personae, her innovative linguistic style transformed letter genre by combining poetry and prose to create a unique textual voice which allowed her to articulate her experience as a woman aspiring to literary achievement. Close textual analysis reveals how epistolary interaction influences the texts and writers who engage in it, as well as the interpretive challenges for readers who attempt to chart these textual companionships over time through access to the collected letters. By recording her ideas in epistolary text, Dickinson left to posterity a detailed portrait of her complex and passionate identity.

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