Form and Content
Seventy-four years after Emily Dickinson’s death, all of her existing poems were gathered into the single volume The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, a text that represents one woman’s rebellion against her patriarchal society’s institutions and literary conventions. After the poet’s death on May 15, 1886, her sister Lavinia began the customary burning of the deceased’s papers but stopped when she discovered the locked wooden box that contained the forty handmade volumes of Dickinson’s poems, fifteen sets of unbound volumes, and hundreds of loose rough-draft poems. Thus began the disclosure of what is now commonly known as the most fantastic instance of self-publication in literary history, a career that extended from about 1858 until the early 1870’s.
Immediately after discovering the volumes, Lavinia began her attempts to get them published. First, she took some of the volumes to her sister-in-law Susan Dickinson, who apparently proceeded to study them methodically. Two years later, Lavinia decided she was moving too slowly. It is significant that, at a time when women held little power, Lavinia turned for help to still another woman, her brother’s lover Mable Loomis Todd, who was responsible for the first editions of Dickinson’s poems. By turning to Todd, the somewhat reclusive Lavinia placed herself between two formidable forces; as a result, first there was a fissure in Lavinia and Susan’s already strained relationship,...
(The entire section is 561 words.)