One of America's most celebrated women, Emily Dickinson was virtually unpublished in her own time and unknown to the public at large. Yet since the first publication of a limited selection of her poems in 1890, she has emerged as one of the most challenging and rewarding writers of all time. Born into a prosperous family in small town Amherst, Massachusetts, she had an above average education for a woman, attending a private high school and then Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, now Mount Holyoke College. Returning to Amherst to her loving family and her "feast" in the reading line, in the 1850s she became increasingly solitary and after the Civil War she spent her life indoors. Despite her cooking and gardening and extensive correspondence, Dickinson's life was strikingly narrow in its social compass. Not so her mind, and on her death in 1886 her sister discovered an astonishing cache of close to eighteen hundred poems. Bitter family quarrels delayed the full publication of Dickinson's "letter to the World," but today her poetry is commonly anthologized and widely praised for its precision, its intensity, its depth and beauty. Dickinson's life and work, however, remain in important ways mysterious.
The essays presented here, all of them previously unpublished, provide an overview of Dickinson studies at the start of the twenty-first century. Written in an engaging and accessible style, this collection represents the best of contemporary scholarship and points the way toward exciting new directions for the future. The volume includes a biographical essay that covers some of the major turning points in the poet's life, especially those emphasized by her letters. Other essays discuss Dickinson's religious beliefs, her response to the Civil War, her class-based politics, her place in a tradition of American women's poetry, and the editing of her manuscripts. A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson concludes with a rich bibliographical essay describing the controversial history of Dickinson's life in print, together with a substantial bibliography of relevant sources.