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Emily Dickinson, material rhetoric, and the ethos of nineteenth-century American women's poetry Scholes, Judith Jeannine


“Emily Dickinson, Material Rhetoric, and the Ethos of Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry” examines the ethos of women’s poetry as it was negotiated through the material rhetoric of mid-nineteenth-century American periodicals, and Emily Dickinson’s strategic alignment with that ethos to paradoxically distance herself from the literary market. As I argue, Dickinson negotiated an enduring marginality that would forestall her entry into public modes of poetic address while she lived, in order to preserve a poetic address that could foster interpersonal affectivity. Establishing the methodological framework for my study, the introduction demonstrates how material rhetoric contributes to the ethos of poetry by defining ethos as emerging from a poetry’s delivery and reception in material contexts of address. Chapter 1 maps the ethos of women’s poetry as it develops in the U.S. between 1830 and 1864, and especially the crucial ground that Civil War newspapers provided for the negotiation of a gendered authorial ethos for women’s poetry. Chapter 2 demonstrates how Dickinson’s poetry was implicated in such negotiations, as her poems were published in her daily newspaper, the Springfield Republican, under literary editor Fidelia Hayward Cooke during the early 1860s. Arguing that this implication transformed her poetic address and prompted decisive action on her part to limit further publication, I then investigate the ethos Dickinson herself negotiated with poetry she addressed to correspondents. Chapter 3 reads Dickinson’s negotiation of an amateur ethos with her correspondent Thomas Wentworth Higginson as a deliberate move to indefinitely defer her entry into the literary market. Chapter 4 maps Dickinson’s practice of sending poetry as, in, or with letters to correspondents, to demonstrate her investment in mobilizing interpersonal affectivity through personal, specific—not public, unspecific—poetic address. This dissertation makes substantial contribution to the field in three ways: it redresses the critical omission of materiality in the study of the rhetoric of nineteenth century American women’s poetry; it extends feminist historiography of women’s rhetoric to include the materiality of poetic address; and it extends the study of Dickinson in context, by situating her among her peers, deeply and inextricably in the material context of mid-nineteenth-century periodical culture.

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