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November 17, 1957 - Image 7

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Sunday, November 17, 1957


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Whicher. Ann Arbor, 1957:
Ann Arbor Paperbacks. 348
pp. $1.75.
IN THE PAST fifty years, the
works of Emily Dickinson have
quietly achieved a position in the
ranks of nineteenth century Amer-
ican literature equal to, if not
higher than those of her more
famous and more boisterous con-
temporaries: Whitman, Emerson,
Melville, and Twain. Her poems,
published posthumously and com-
pletely collected only recently,
form a major part of the rather
unsubstantial backlog of Ameri-
can letters that can be considered
independent of the British and
continental influences and impor-
tations of the period.
The simplicity and lyricism of
Miss Dickinson's poetry particu-
larly appealed to the generation of
poets who were attempting to es-
cape from the sticky decadence of
late Victorianism in the early part
of this century. The influence of
her short, intense verses helped
direct these men to a point from
whence they later were able to di-
rect almost all the entire flow of
American poetry. Emily Dickin-
son's influence upon the influen-
tial alone makes a study of her
life and works both interesting and
WITH THIS apparently in mind,
George Frisbie Whicher in
This Was a Poet: A Critical Bi-
ography of Emily Dickinson gives
Miss Dickinson a more sensitive
and more sympathetic treatment
than she has yet been accorded by
twentieth century scholars. As-
suming that "it is possible to dis-
cern the larger scope of her
achievement and to define her po-
sition in relation to the forces cur-
rent in her time," the author de-
votes the first half of his book to
a stucdy of the poet's background,
home life, love life, and education.
The second half he reserves for an
analyti, discussion of origins,
style, form, and an evaluation of

s e .. , , I s L!f AI I I V/-1L It 1 G age seven
OGY. By F. L. Lucas. Ana
Arbor, 1957: Ann Arbor Pa-
perbacks, 340 pp. $1.75.
lDaiy Magazine Editor
"LITERATURE and Psychology"
is a sweeping, thought-pro-
voking, often sensible and some-
times infuriating volume compiled
from lectures Lucas has given at
Cambridge since the war. It is
M grossly mistitled, since its subject
matter ranges all the way from a
penetrating survey of most of
western literature to a full-blown
aesthetic theory that las, indeed,
to do with psychology, but not in
the usual limiting social science
l I His thesis is a simple one, one
that perhaps, however, has been
the general merit of Miss Dickin- Dickinson's mode of existence and Miss Dickinson's life, her motiva- generally ignored in the literature
son's achievement. on her writings. The poet's early tions for writing were inward ones, of the last century or so: Litera-
Poems of high distinction realization of her complete ina- and her poetry can be getter un- ture, like people, should be healthy.
are not picked up like nuggets bility to accept the prevailing dog- derstood in terms of background But it takes time to build to that
by the chance discoverer; they ma of the Calvinistic church and heritage than in terms of ex- conclusion, and time to defend it
are the fruits whereby ;a dis- marked the beginning of her re- ternal romance. and before he is through, Lucas
tinguished way of living is jection of society and, her exclusion The poet's retreat into isolation touches on a host of other areas.
known, the secret and pure es- from the questionable comforts of Whicher does not, and perhaps
sence of a unique personality, its bounds. cannot, fully explain. Her social THE BOOK'S first section deals
It follows that the commen- The author follows the events disappearance was gradual, and at 1 with the interpretation of lit-
tary which best deepens and of the poet's life with methodical first, seemed to be merely the re-
enriches their significance is care; the clouds of mythology and tirement of the average New Eng- erature, an easier and better-done
the biography of the poet. land spinster from public life. Spir- aspect of criticism, Lucas believes,
gossip which have heretofore s ly itual conflicts, ill health, and a fa- than judgement. He disposes of
W ITH THESE sentences, Which- Dcknsod hepdoe tal love of "company of her own the critical "problems" of Lady
er justifies the biographical in- dispel. Traditionally, for instance choosing," however, eventually MacbethOedipus, Hamlet, Lear,
terest which persuades him to much of the poet's best work arose persuaded Miss Dickinson to yield Othello and Macbeth by applying
treat with detail Miss Dickinson's from some vaguely illicit and clear- the world she couldnot accept in common sense and examples from
family history and home environ- ly mysterious love affair which ture, her family and her writing life. It is, perhaps, alife not familiar,
ment. The first section of the book failed and drove her into the per- For fifteen years, she communi- thifch otainued in t aalst's
consists mainly, in fact of histori- petually peaceful sanctuary of herFthe lfe contained inthe analyst's
cal sketches of the town where father's house, where she wore only rotead with hvse peakisonlyb case history. From many sources
Emily Dickinson spent all her lifewhite and gradually lost contact nom and verse-ang 55en he draws a parade of human
"ml ikso tal rlffrom another universe-and whenbenswoaei'ed trgr
Amherst, Massachusetts, and care- with all of her surrounding society. in 1886 she died, the age of 55, beings who are ieed stranger
fully drawn portraits of the mem- and he ye ofp55, than fiction. And even if we re-
bers of her immediate family. The SPECULATIONS as to the extent lished poems were almost the sole ject them as wholly explaining the
" dominating personality character- and nature of this affair have record of the last half of her life. Sophoclean characters, they tnt
istics of her brother, and more par- been rife. Information about the
ticularly of her father, had much private contacts and emotions of THE PURITAN tradition of Miss UP one important fact: that
to do with the formation of the Miss Dickinson seems to be sparse, Dickinson's environment has people such as those two play-
rigidly introverted character of the but the author-welding all the already been mentioned. Her quest wrights portrayed do exist.
poet herself; the forbidding rem- available information together - for veracity in religion and the To further illustrate his con-
nants of New England Puritanism denies the existence or at least the emphasis in her poetry on parti- viction that the artist was the
which pervaded the Amherst at- overwhelming effect of any real cular fact was a result of the joy first psychologist, and that we
mosphere, however, and the air of love affair. Although devotion to in grasping something tangible are only now beginning to discover
provincial culture which filled the one man or another, usually a self- and sure that was inherent in her how accurate were some of the
college town, were later to have an appointed mentor or spiritual religious and philosophical heri- creator's seeming exaggerations, he
even profounder influence on Miss guide, -was a continuing part of See DICKINSON, Page 12 See F. L., page 17

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