ABSTRACT

In an October 1870 letter Emily Dickinson told her friend Elizabeth Holland: “To shut our eyes is Travel” (L354). As Dickinson is usually a figure associated with reclusive confinement rather than worldly travel, this aphoristic comment has not received much attention, even though travel and geographical imagery pervades her writings. Recent scholarship on nineteenth-century virtual travel provides a new approach to the function and frequency of global references and the travel motif in Dickinson’s work as a recurrent means of representing psychological complexity, imaginational scope, and nature’s inexplicability. Drawing on this research, this essay focuses primarily on the regularity and specificity of Dickinson’s references to Europe or to journeying there. Dickinson’s European imagery is interpreted as evidence of her participation in a broader nineteenth-century US cultural representation of transatlantic experience through conceptions of the virtual. Two examples of nineteenth-century armchair or fireside travel to Europe by Ik Marvel and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow exemplify how relations between the US and Europe are established through virtual tropes of being neither here nor there, being both outside and inside a specific location or situation, and occupying an object ive and subjective posi tion simultaneously. Like her contemporaries, Dickinson uses nineteenth-century notions of virtuality to construct topographical and experiential spaces that are transatlantic ones of duality and liminality. Dickinson’s virtual Europe unsettles her era’s discourses of nationalism and exceptionalism; it demonstrates that sets of relations between presence and absence, actual and imagined, and local and foreign fundamentally inform daily life and identity in the US.

 

KEYWORDS: Emily Dickinson, virtuality, Ik Marvel, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, transatlantic, Europe

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