by Frances Payne Adler

Page 3

1) First, she recognizes that her mind has been colonized by the values of her time, that her circumstances are unacceptable for a woman genius: In a letter to her brother Austin, she writes about how her father watched and inhibited her: "I arrived home at 9 - found Father in great agitation at my protracted stay - and mother and Vinnie in tears, for fear he would kill me. . ." (June 1851). In a letter to Higginson, she writes about the lack of a role model in her mother, and a father who discourages her from feeding her intelligence: "My mother does not care for thought - and Father, too busy with his briefs - to notice what we do - He buys me many books - but begs me not to read them - because he fears they joggle the Mind" (April 25, 1852). Then her poem:

His mind of man, a secret makes
I meet him with a start
he carries a circumference
in which I have no part

(JP 1663)

She's sensing her lack of self in the first half of this poem:

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there -
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler.

I turned my Being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the Owner's name
For doubt, that I should know the Sound -

(JP 351)

Then, in another letter to Austin, the self-deprecating voice, masking the not-so-shadow feminist text:

I suppose I am a fool - you always said I was one, and yet I have some feelings that seem sensible to me. . . . Why not a "eleventh hour" in the life of the mind as well as the soul - greyhaired sinners are saved - simple maids may be wise, who knoweth? (June 22, 1851)

2) Second, Dickinson moves into shutting out the patriarchal values, to taking her own values and perceptions seriously. In a letter to Austin, who was also writing poems, she declares:

Now Brother Pegasus, I'll tell you what it is - I've been in the habit myself of writing some few things, and it rather appears to me that you're getting away my patent, so you'd better be somewhat careful, or I'll call the police! . . . I declare, I have half a mind to
throw a stone . . . and kill five barn door fowls. (March 27, 1853)

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