Departmental Bulletin Paper Haunted Homes and Uncanny Spaces: The Gothic in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Landau, Samantha

 This essay will explore the image of the Gothic home in EmilyDickinson’s poetry using close readings of her poems and historicalsources. Analysis of nineteenth century Gothic texts will provide evidencethat an admiration of female Gothic authors lead Dickinson to emulatemany of the themes, motifs, and symbols they used. Their influencecombines with her preoccupation with the space of the home, apredilection reflected in her letters and her poetry. Readings of Dickinson’spoems demonstrate that the home may be seen as both a physical space(the house) and a mental space (the mind). These spaces present positivepossibilities as well as menacing confinement, a duality fundamental tothe Gothic genre. Dickinson also discusses houses in a similar way toGothic authors—namely, she writes of the house’s dual nature, that it canbe both familiar and frightening, and that it is an uncanny space. She treatsthe house as an ambiguous subject and a powerful setting that can indicatea radical differentiation between the meaning and unmeaning of events,and the significance or insignificance of persons. Overall, Dickinson’s poetry presents the reader with a phenomenologyof home inextricable from the Gothic mode. Tangible constructions in theform of architectural metaphors lend support to her inherently ambiguousand often uncanny subject matter. Behind the doors and the windows,inside the chambers and underneath the gables of the houses in her poems,there exist social values of hospitality, gentility, and distinction, the joyand comfort associated with a happy home, but also anxieties, guilt, andfears. She employs numerous themes and symbols to illustrate the varioussignificances attached to space, but her poems are most Gothic in their useof the loss of the house, which condemns her narrators to a marginalexistence, disturbed, and unable to find a place to call “home.”

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