• Haunted Homes and Uncanny Spaces: The Gothic in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

    Samantha Landau (see profile)
    American literature, Nineteenth century, Architecture and literature, Gothic literature, Psychoanalysis
    Item Type:
    19th-century American literature, Gender
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    This essay will explore the image of the Gothic home in Emily Dickinson’s poetry using close readings of her poems and historical sources. Analysis of nineteenth century Gothic texts will provide evidence that an admiration of female Gothic authors lead Dickinson to emulate many of the themes, motifs, and symbols they used. Their influence combines with her preoccupation with the space of the home, a predilection reflected in her letters and her poetry. Readings of Dickinson’s poems demonstrate that the home may be seen as both a physical space (the house) and a mental space (the mind). These spaces present positive possibilities as well as menacing confinement, a duality fundamental to the Gothic genre. Dickinson also discusses houses in a similar way to Gothic authors—namely, she writes of the house’s dual nature, that it can be both familiar and frightening, and that it is an uncanny space. She treats the house as an ambiguous subject and a powerful setting that can indicate a radical differentiation between the meaning and unmeaning of events, and the significance or insignificance of persons. Overall, Dickinson’s poetry presents the reader with a phenomenology of home inextricable from the Gothic mode. Tangible constructions in the form of architectural metaphors lend support to her inherently ambiguous and often uncanny subject matter. Behind the doors and the windows, inside the chambers and underneath the gables of the houses in her poems, there exist social values of hospitality, gentility, and distinction, the joy and comfort associated with a happy home, but also anxieties, guilt, and fears. She employs numerous themes and symbols to illustrate the various significances attached to space, but her poems are most Gothic in their use of the loss of the house, which condemns her narrators to a marginal existence, disturbed, and unable to find a place to call “home.”
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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