Critical Psychophysical Passages in the Life of a Woman

pp 49-65

The Father’s Role in the Self-Development of His Daughter

  • Susan Adler KavalerAffiliated withNational Institute for the PsychotherapiesPsychoanalytic Faculty, Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, Psychoanalytic InstituteBrooklyn Institute for PsychotherapyInternational School of Mental Health Practitioners

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Emily Dickinson’s long-simmering hopes for editorial approval were crushed in one blow (Sewall, 1975). She had chosen Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an elder male figure, as her one prime judge. All her hopes for rescue from obscurity were pinned on him. Yet, the imagined ambrosia of praise was dashed with the salt of criticism. Higginson called the poet’s poems “spasmodic,” a blow from which Emily Dickinson never recovered. Acting like a little girl who can’t yet see beyond the sphere of her one and only daddy, Emily Dickinson revered Higginson, her editorial critic, and with his disapproval she sealed herself away for life. She never again attempted publication. Emily’s resounding remark of that time haunts us with the formidable subtlety of its stifled inner cry (Ferlazzo, 1976, p. 84)

A great hope fell

You heard no noise

The ruin was within

Outwardly, she became a veiled, and “slightly cracked” (Higginson’s words) recluse.