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Title page for ETD etd-02282007-110558

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Beauchesne, Jill M.
Author's Email Address
URN etd-02282007-110558
Title How Still the Riddle Lies; Emily Dickinson's Sense of Naturalness
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Robert Baker Committee Chair
Louise Economides Committee Member
Phil Condon Committee Member
  • Romanticisism
  • Emily
  • Dickinson
  • ecocriticism
  • ecofeminism
  • humor
  • comedy
  • animal
  • nature
  • sublime
  • feminism
Date of Defense 2006-12-20
Availability unrestricted
Beauchesne, Jill, M.A., Autumn 2006 Literature

Abstract: How Still the Riddle Lies

Robert Baker, Chair

Louise Economides

Phil Condon

The tradition of “nature writing” in the United States draws heavily on the literary

movements of Romanticism and Transcendentalism. Wordsworth’s meditative walks,

Keats’s nightingale, Thoreau’s pond—these concepts have shaped literary beliefs and

perceptions of natural landscapes as much as a writer’s individual haunts or favorite

creatures. In a contemporary context, a writer steps down a long, wellworn path when

he or she attempts to describe a bird taking flight or the way the sunlight feels at a certain

time of afternoon. In the nineteenth century, writers began looking to nature as a source

of redemption—through interaction and contemplation of natural landscapes or animals,

writers often constructed fantastic, extraordinary metaphors and expressions of individual consciousness or feeling. These types of natural contemplations still serve as potential

artistic reservoirs for contemporary writers and artists; however, this reservoir emerges as

increasingly fraught under the lens of feminist criticism.

The Romantic construction of “sublimation,” a process by which a “subject” can gain invaluable creative or spiritual knowledge through an interaction with an “other”

(often, a natural place or thing) requires an implicit separation of subject from object.

Feminists have latched on to the dualist makeup of Romanticism and have urged a critical

reevaluation of how we must read these writers from a present standpoint. Moreover, within this reevaluation,feminist criticism focuses on how female writers in this period and others handled this objectification of the other. In my thesis, I have utilized feminist and ecofeminist criticism to examine how nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson confronted the Romantic sublime, specifically in relation to the natural world. Namely, I believe that Dickinson’s relationship to the natural world is less objectifying than more publicly dominant literary names of her time and that she remained less interested in

obtaining subjective sublimity than in expressing a conceptually particular, somewhat strange, always fascinating relationship with her physical surroundings. Furthermore,humor served as a primary tool for Dickinson to conduct subversive reactions against the dominant Romantic paradigm concerning the natural world and also allowed her more access to reactionary discursive tools.

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