By Margaret Homans

How does the realization of being a girl have an effect on the workings of the poetic mind's eye? With this query Margaret Homans introduces her examine of 3 nineteenth-century ladies poets and their reaction to a literary culture that defines the poet as male. Her resolution indicates why there have been so few nice ladies poets in an age while many of the nice novelists have been women.

Originally released in 1987.

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Extra info for Women Writers and Poetic Identity: Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson (Princeton Legacy Library)

Example text

She embraces this difficulty because that centrism is as objectionable as it is dif­ ficult to imitate, and yet it is equally difficult for her to imag­ ine other structures with which to replace that centrism, so completely does it occlude her view of the possibilities for writing. The same dislocation creates for Bronte an intermi­ nable struggle for possession of poetic power; it finally causes Dickinson to seek a different kind of language with which to constitute a different kind of self, but even for this more pow­ erful poet the project is more a reaction against phallogocentrism than it is a positive construction.

If her purpose is to consecrate accord with William, then she must not contradict his view of nature as feminine. William can portray his mother as the original for his relations with nature, but Dorothy, seeing her brothers as her first relation­ ship, must find a discontinuity between love of brothers and love of nature. The objects of her love are divided, and for the purposes of writing they detract from rather than augment each other. She cannot celebrate nature as maternal, either, however, since this would oblige her to compete with yet another female figure for William's love.

Differences of experience determined by custom rather than by sexual difference per se certainly contributed a great deal to the differences between brother and sister. While Wil­ liam was traveling widely and acquiring a classical education, Dorothy remained at home in the relatively cloistered atmos­ phere of her foster home. " She read widely in English literature but her reading lacked the struc­ ture that her brother's education provided. Important as these cultural differences must have been in shaping sexual identity, Dorothy Wordsworth 43 external factors of this kind cannot be ultimate causes, since the powerful poet can reinvent his or her past.

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