The Dickinson Variorum and the Question of Home

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The Emily Dickinson Journal



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Ralph W. Franklin’s 1998 The Poems of Emily Dickinson may be the best Dickinson variorum possible. But because a scholarly edition of this kind must take a stand on issues that scholars continue to debate, editorial decisions involving such matters as providing multiple texts for poems, changing punctuation typography, and creating titles for poems will, almost by necessity, be controversial. As Shakespeare variorum editor Richard Knowles has observed, a variorum must negotiate “difference in textual variants, spectrum of meanings, critical approaches, historical and cultural changes of taste” (40), all with the aim of providing readers “the whole range of interpretation that has ever been thought by serious scholars to be possible” (38). Achieving such an ambitious scholarly objective may be particularly fraught at century’s end when, in Vivian Pollak’s words, “as Franklin reads Dickinson in the wake of . . . deconstructive criticism, he engages in compromises that serve as subtle reminders of an inescapable fact: to edit is to alter”(3). With Dickinson, the editorial compromises to which Pollak alludes may be even more subject to critical scrutiny than they would be with writers who actively published in their own lifetimes, as the absence of authorial precedent has led scholars to propose that the multiple visual, structural and semantic features of her holograph composition process were designed to resist containment within the relative stasis of any print home. Knowledge of these editorial complexities makes altogether reasonable Knowles’ conclusion that the “ideal of the variorum . . . is probably impossible to achieve”(45).