Date of Award

6-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Leonard von Morze

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Klimasmith

Third Advisor

Nadia Nurhussein

Abstract

Scholarship has typically overlooked the value of an extended comparison of Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville. Indeed--despite their similar posthumous success--they are no classic pairing: the private, possibly-agoraphobic poet and the seafaring, fame-seeking novelist turned United States Customs agent. Throughout this project, I seek to outline the various spatial entities which make this comparison of Dickinson and Melville as possible as it is potentially fruitful. By implementing the metaphors of cartography, by considering each author's dissatisfaction with the boundaries of religion, and by recognizing the distinctly unmappable qualities of the mind, we will find that the similarities run deeper than Ahabian signifiers and shared theological and psychological obsessions. Both Melville and Dickinson were in the business of Space, each expertly manipulating the scale of an idea to shape the way readers understand not only their writings, but also the nineteenth-century American milieu itself. Both authors knew that ideas take up a certain amount of space, yet what they show their audience is that the nature of their subjects surpasses the size of their page. To showcase that the capacity of content exceeds standard presumption, Melville can make a leviathan small, and Dickinson a fly large. He can diminish 135 chapters with his final line, and she can fit Eternity into a coffin. Eventually all is dwarfed by the pen of Dickinson and Melville. But as "we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water [is] the thinnest of air" (Melville 45), what remains on the page is Ishmael's "shadow," a sperm whale's "blubber," and tiny "ashes" of the most immense literary value.

Comments

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