Emily Dickinson and Hymn Culture : Tradition and Experience book cover
1st Edition

Emily Dickinson and Hymn Culture
Tradition and Experience

ISBN 9781138266056
Published November 28, 2016 by Routledge
246 Pages

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Book Description

Extending the critical discussion which has focused on the hymns of Isaac Watts as an influence on Emily Dickinson's poetry, this study brings to bear the hymnody of Dickinson's female forbears and contemporaries and considers Isaac Watts's position as a Dissenter for a fuller understanding of Dickinson's engagement with hymn culture. Victoria N. Morgan argues that the emphasis on autonomy in Watts, a quality connected to his position as a Dissenter, and the work of women hymnists, who sought to redefine God in ways more compatible with their own experience, posing a challenge to the hierarchical 'I-Thou' form of address found in traditional hymns, inspired Dickinson's adoption of hymnic forms. As she traces the powerful intersection of tradition and experience in Dickinson's poetry, Morgan shows Dickinson using the modes and motifs of hymn culture to manipulate the space between concept and experience-a space in which Dickinson challenges old ways of thinking and expresses her own innovative ideas on spirituality. Focusing on Dickinson's use of bee imagery and on her notions of religious design, Morgan situates the radical re-visioning of the divine found in Dickinson's 'alternative hymns' in the context of the poet's engagement with a community of hymn writers. In her use of the fluid imagery of flight and community as metaphors for the divine, Dickinson anticipates the ideas of feminist theologians who privilege community over hierarchy.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Part 1 Hymn Culture: Tradition and Theory: 'Twas as space sat singing to herself - and men - ': situating Dickinson's relation to hymn culture; The hymn - a form of devotion?; Theorising hymnic space: language, subjectivity and re-visioning the divine. Part 2Tradition and Experience: Refiguring Dickinson's Experience of Hymn Culture: Making the sublime ridiculous: Emily Dickinson and Isaac Watts in dissent; 'The prospect oft my strength renews': spiritual transport in the hymns of Phoebe Hinsdale Brown and Eliza Lee Follen. Part 3 Experiments in Hymn Culture: Tracing Dickinson's bee imagery; 'Why floods be served to us in bowls -/I speculate no more': reading Dickinson's strategy; Index; Bibliography; Index.

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Dr Victoria N. Morgan has taught widely on English and American Literature at the University of Liverpool, UK, since 2002. She received her doctorate in 2007 and is the Co-Editor of Shaping Belief.


'... a solid, original work of scholarship. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.' Choice '... this book offers a new way of considering some of Dickinson's visionary poems about the natural world, and it opens up the hitherto scarcely touched field of women's hymnody.' The New England Quarterly '... an engaging study...' Modern Language Review 'Victoria N. Morgan brilliantly extends the discussion of the poet's "religious speculation in poetic form"... showing that Dickinson wrestled not only with the language of science, but Christianity as well.' Times Literary Supplement 'It is a pleasure to read a book as informed, intelligent, and comfortable as Victoria N. Morgan's Emily Dickinson and Hymn Culture. Drawing on feminist theology and French theory, Morgan places Dickinson in the context of women hymn writers and describes Dickinson's positive inheritance from Isaac Watts as well as her rejection of his hierarchical relationship to the divine - accomplishing all these things in order to depict Dickinson as a writer of alternative hymns, deeply immersed in nineteenth-century hymn culture.' Emily Dickinson Journal 'This wide-ranging book focusses on the similarities between Emily Dickinson's poetic forms and the main traditions of evangelical Protestant hymnody in order to offer a full interpretation of both Dickinson's poetry and her religious convictions. Earlier scholarship had stressed the way in which Dickinson's apparently conscious use of standard hymn forms enabled her to subvert the conventional Christianity found in the hymns of main authors like Isaac Watts. Morgan argues that the relationship is much more complex. [...] because it also provides much insight concerning Dickinson's interaction with a wide range of hymns as well as concerning the resonances of her own poems against hymn traditions, patient attention is amply rewarded. [...] Even more interesting is her consideration of how the poet'