The Woman/Poet Wife: Emily Dickinson and the Influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Arifa Ghani Rahman
Abstract: The influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Emily Dickinson’s poetry has been the subject of much speculation. The thematic similarities between the poetry of these two women and, sometimes, the use of similar or exact words have led some critics to accuse Dickinson of plagiarism. This paper considers this accusation in terms of Harold Bloom’s idea of the “anxiety of influence” to show how Barrett Browning inspired Dickinson to become at once a part of a strong female tradition as well as a deviant. The image of the wife as presented by Dickinson in her “bridal” poems has been compared with that presented in Barrett Browning’s famous “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” Barrett Browning’s sonnet sequence, written for her husband, has been valued more for the romance behind the poems than for their literary value. These poems have ultimately placed Barrett Browning securely in the place of woman/wife rather than poet. But where Barrett Browning never questioned the overlapping of these roles, Dickinson, in her poetry, is often troubled by the implications. This paper examines Dickinson’s poems as an assertion of the conflicts between the woman/poet/wife compared to Barrett Browning’s poetry which shows her complacency with her position as woman/wife as she had already established herself as a poet in the man’s world before she ever met Robert Browning.
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Published in 2015