Debates about editorial properties have been at the center of scholarship on Emily Dickinson since the 1981 publication of Ralph W. Franklin's two-volume The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson. Many critics now work from the assumption that autograph poems have primacy over their printed versions, and it has been suggested that to read Dickinson in any standard typographical edition is effectively to read her in translation, at one remove from her actual practices. More specifically, critics have claimed that the line arrangements, shapes of words and letters, and particular angle of dashes in the autographs are all potentially integral to a poem's meaning, making a graphic contribution to its contents. In this essay I set out to test the hypothesis of Dickenson's proleptic textual radicalism, by looking closely at features such as spacing, the physical direction of the writing, and letter shapes in handwritten lyric and epistolary texts. By systematic contextualization and cross-referencing, I hope to provide the historical scholar of manuscripts with a set of procedures - a critical apparatus - by which to measure the extent to which contemporary critical approaches to Dickinson's autograph procedures can reasonably be formulated as corresponding to the poet's own purposes.
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