“Fame’s Consummate Fee”: Dickinson’s Nameless Celebrity


  • Paul Crumbley




In the months preceding her death on May 15, 1886, Emily Dickinson requested that Emily Brontë’s poem “No coward soul is mine” be read at her funeral, thereby enlisting Brontë’s defiant declaration of immortality in what can be interpreted as Dickinson’s own equally defiant final statement on the relation of fame to enduring art. Dickinson previewed the logic behind this act in the theory of fame she expressed four years earlier in a letter to Roberts Brothers editor Thomas Niles in which she refused his request for a “volume of poems” (L749b) and instead sent him “How happy is the little Stone” (Fr1570E), a poem that alludes to “the rock of immortality” (l. 16) and the “atom” (l. 26) that appear in Brontë’s poem. These allusions inform Dickinson’s figurative declaration to Niles that the fame she aspires to is based on lasting fusion with the elemental fabric of the universe, not immediate approval from the contemporary reading public. Dickinson tells Niles that she seeks a form of fame that is more enduring than the sort he offers but which is fundamentally experimental in nature, in as much as it requires that the poet hazard the loss of her name in exchange for continued life in the language of others.


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