Romantic to Modern Arc

  • Richard E. Brantley


“Her attempt,” declares Eleanor Wilner, “was imaginatively to repossess and reconstruct an old order, and if to do so, she was led to innovations which later were to serve the cause of modernism, this is historical irony, rather than intention.” The “old order” that Wilner thinks characterizes Emily Dickinson’s strangely prospective retrospection is Christian Platonism,1 but my humbler candidate, closer to her home in language and focus and related to broader contexts of folk, popular, and elite culture than Christian Platonism claims, is empirical evangelicalism. Richard B. Sewall places Dickinson’s empirical imagination in the context of mid-nineteenth-century scientific knowledge.2 Beth Maclay Doriani looks backward further than Wilner for the roots of Dickinson’s religious imagination and finds them in the poet’s prophetic tradition beginning with the Book of Joel in the fourth century BCE: “… and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28; reiterated in Acts 2:17).3 Barton Levi St. Armand links Dickinson’s aesthetic practice to an exclusively nineteenth-century, solely American range of folk, popular, and elite culture.4 Cynthia Griffin Wolff, contextualizing Dickinson’s preoccupation with end-things (eschatology), studies her concern with the Victorian-American “way of death” and projects her “proleptic voice” into, and beyond, the twentieth century, as well as into, and beyond, the grave.5


Spiritual Experience Paradise Lost Religious Doubt Natural Religion Spiritual Sense 
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  1. 1.
    Eleanor Wilner, “The Poetics of Emily Dickinson,” ELH 38 (1971): 128–54, esp. 145, 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 25.
    J. Clifford Hindi ey, “The Philosophy of Enthusiasm,” The London Quarterly and Holborn Review 182 (1957): 99–109, 199–210, esp. 204.Google Scholar
  3. 37.
    Donald Davie, “Nonconformist Poetics: A Reply to Daniel Jenkins,” Literature and Theology 2 (September 1988): 160–73, esp. 160.Google Scholar
  4. 61.
    For a persuasive brief for the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate, see H. Allen Orr, “Darwinian Storytelling,” The New York Review of Books 50 (February 27, 2003): 17–20. Orr opposes the enthusiastic presentation of the nature side in Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002).Google Scholar
  5. 115.
    Graham Hough, “The Natural Theology of In Memoriam,” Review of English Studies 33 (1947): 244–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. See also Eugene R. August, “Tennyson andTeilhard:The Faith of In MemoriamPMLA 84 (1969): 217–26. For Dickinson’s use of the smithy metaphor, see “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” (Poem 401 A).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 119.
    John D. Cox, “Nominalist Ethics and the New Historicism,” Christianity and Literature, 39 (Winter 1990): 127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Richard E. Brantley 2004

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  • Richard E. Brantley

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