"A THORN-CHOKED GARDEN PLOT": WOMEN'S PLACE IN EMILY DICKINSON AND CHRISTINA ROSSETTI (ENGLAND, UNITED STATES)
BEAMAN, DARLENE SUZETTE
Doctor of Philosophy
Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti, born just five days apart in 1830, wrote similarly on love, restriction, identity, and death. Their similarities arose not because one poet influenced the other, but because both poets shared the identity of single women in strong patriarchal societies. Although shared lifestyles as single and relatively secluded women who remained in their parents' homes do not provide a shared outlook, their biographies support the theory that both grappled with the problem of a woman's place. Both poets are too ensconsed in male tradition to disregard outworn beliefs, particularly those beliefs concerning a woman's place in nature and in love, but both begin deceptively to change sexual connotations within traditional stereotypes. Dickinson presents this change in women positively, while Rossetti presents non-conforming women as failures. But they picture the destructiveness of stereotypes that obliterate a woman's identity in love. Walls, masks, and other enclosures abound in both women's poetry. In Rossetti's verse, walls and self-imposed masks protect women against punishable indulgences, but these enclosures confine and deaden. The freedom from this imposed imprisonment characterizes many of her religious poems. In Dickinson's poetry, barriers induce imaginative questing and desires for escape, just as punishment affirms the promethean artistic self. Both women reveal the confinement of restrictions upon women, but where Dickinson advocates the breaking of boundaries, if only through secret imaginative flight, Rossetti reinforces the validity of boundaries and conformity. Both poets convey a woman's anxiety of loss over place, sexuality, and integrated identity when she fails to fit into expected roles. Their poetry enacts the similar characteristics of psychic fragmentation and existential reality, particularly through the recurrence of mirroring pronomial structures and negative or empty metaphors. But these aspects of multiplicity proliferate a linguistic freedom beyond the boundaries of conventional femininity. Finally, both poets examine the precepts of consolation literature and attempt to reconcile the problems of a woman's earthly place with the proposed triumphs of her heavenly place. But while Rossetti paradoxically provides women only with the metaphoric perfection of their earthly positions, Dickinson discards the consolation of a heavenly place and envisions the rewards of an androgynous poetic voice.