Emily Dickinson's life and art have fascinated -- and perplexed -- the poet's admirers for more than a century. One of the most hotly debated elements of Dickinson's poetry has been her unconventional use of punctuation. Now, in Inflections of the Pen, Paul Crumbley unravels many of these stylistic mysteries in his careful examination of manuscript versions of her poems -- including selections from the fascicles, Dickinson's own hand-bound gatherings of her poems -- and of Dickinson's letters. Crumbley argues that the dash is the key to deciphering the poet's complex experiments with poetic voice.
From the time of Dickinson's first editors, Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, standard versions of her poetry have tended to normalize the poems. Designated as either em- or en-dashes in print by all but a few recent editors, Dickinson's dash marks in the holography versions vary tremendously in length, height, and angle. According to Crumbley, these varied dashes suggest subtle gradations of inflection and syntactic disjunction. The printed poems give the impression of a unified voice, whereas the dashes that appear in the manuscripts disrupt conventional thought patterns and suggest multiple voices.
The dash, therefore, becomes Dickinson's most expressive visual signal. Crumbley believes that Dickinson's unorthodox practice grants her readers the right to question linguistic authority. No one voice seems to have primacy in Dickinson's poetry. Instead, the poems provoke multiple readings that simultaneously affirm and challenge the dominant social and political values of nineteenth-century America.
Dashes and the Limits of Discourse
Playing with Elite and Popular Traditions
Dash and Voice in the Letters
Listening to the Child
The Community of Self
Homelessness and the Forms of Selfhood
"Detects important subtleties and nuances emerging from the manuscripts." -- Choice
"Crumbley's argument for the role of the dash in signaling multiple voices in the poems is strong, and his comparisons of the printed editions with the manuscripts are convincing. His readings of individual poems are particularly insightful and illuminating." -- Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin
"By the end of Crumbley's very learned and admirably painstaking study, we see how Derrida, Kristeva, feminist theory, and nineteenth-century cultural studies can all be illuminated by the attention paid to the dashes in Dickinson's manuscripts." -- Legacy
"How refreshing... to see Dickinson placed within a tradition, as a successor rather than as a 'beginner'; and to hear her work accounted a force for propagation of wisdom and virtue, rather than confusion and disruption." -- Religion and the Arts
"Reproduces sixteen separate gradations of dash, suggesting an interpretive commitment to the integrity of each. Crumbley renders very complex ideas simply but not simplistically, and he writes elegantly." -- American Literature