Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Janet Land

Abstract

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson are arguably two of the most recognized names in nineteenth-century poetry. One was famous in her lifetime, a pioneer of women’s poetics with a searing vision of what her world was, her place in it and how to live. The other was only recognized for her poetic genius after her death, and but for the love of her family and friends, her poetic voice would have never transformed the landscape of American literature. Although these two women were separated by culture and geography, they both had a shared Congregationalist heritage, a poetic gift and a prophetic calling to speak truth through their poetry. In this thesis, I examine not only how their shared Congregationalist background and biblical knowledge influence the content of each poet’s work, but also how they experimented with the hymn form and sermon rhetoric in their work in an effort to develop their prophetic voice in the nineteenth century. By first using the definition of a prophet as understood in Judeo-Christian theology and the concept of the Victorian sage as explained by George Landow and John Holloway, I establish the context of the prophet theologically and artistically. After establishing this definition of a prophet for my discussion, I describe the history and polity of Congregationalism, the broad term for dissenting churches who broke from Catholic and Anglican faiths in an effort to purify worship to a simplified, more word oriented, democratically governed church body. Using these prophetic and theological lenses, I examine Barrett Browning and Dickinson’s development of their own unique prophetic voice under the mantle of authority granted by Congregationalist liturgy and ideology. I also examine the influence of Barrett Browning’s work and death on Dickinson, as demonstrated through her Barrett Browning fascicles, and how Dickinson contemplated the poet’s life, work, and death during her most prolific period of writing, 1858-1865. Because both poets used the hymn format and sermon patterns identified with Congregationalist worship, we see that although each poet’s voice and style were different, their very faith foundation and liturgical influences were similar and compatible to each other. Much like the biblical relationship between Elijah and his protégé Elisha, Barrett Browning and Dickinson demonstrate a similar poet prophet relationship in the nineteenth century, and as Barrett Browning’s untimely death caused her to vacate the mantle of the female poet prophet, Dickinson proved to be an able protégé in assuming the role of a speaker of truth to her contemporaries.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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