Coming to Terms with a Changing Nineteenth-Century Society: The Experiments of Emily Dickinson with Broadening the Horizon, With a Look at those of William Wordsworth and Friedrich Nietzsche
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This thesis does not submit to the tradition of seeing Emily Dickinson as an isolated poet, oblivious to the affairs of the world but, rather, examines her as a poet whose work expresses a keen insight into, and awareness of, societal goings-on. Specifically, this thesis presents a comprehensive picture of the way in which Dickinson’s poetry responds to the many changes that were occurring in nineteenth-century society, such as the transition from a religion-oriented to a materialistic society, and the shift from a region-oriented to a more cosmopolitan culture. To do so, it focuses on three topics central to her poetry and related to her changing times: nineteenth-century materialism, the fashionable practice of travelling, and the poems which contain more abstract discussions of radical change and uncertainty. In examining these three areas of the poetry, it becomes clear that Dickinson’s speakers come to terms with the changes that were occurring in nineteenth-century society by focusing on adjusting their established conceptions and values in order to adapt to their new circumstances. Specifically, they are determined to constantly subject themselves to change, disruption, and the new – concepts integral to nineteenth-century life, according to the poetry – in order to broaden their horizons – something which enables them to adapt to the new order in which they find themselves. This thesis then creates a model to be able to examine the specific way in which the process of the broadening of the horizon takes place more thoroughly. This model shows that the broadening of the horizon is coupled with a sense of the uncanny, and draws on the theories of Freud and Heidegger to make this clear. To place the uncanny experiments of Dickinson’s speakers with broadening the horizon – experiments which are conducted in order to come to terms with living in a changing nineteenth-century society – in a broader context, her work is compared to two important nineteenth-century works which share Dickinson’s concerns and themes on this matter to a striking degree: William Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. This shows that Dickinson’s poetry is not only firmly rooted in her times, but also in its nineteenth-century literary context.