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A Level English Literature Study Guide to The Poems of Emily Dickinson

Theresa Sowerby | Monday November 11, 2019

Categories: Archived Resources, KS5 Archive, OCR A Level, OCR A Level Pre-2015 Resources, OCR A Level English Literature, F661, Hot Entries, Poetry, Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Writing, Analytical Writing, Literary Analysis, Poetry Analysis

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Introduction and Biography | Features of Dickinson’s Style | Themes and Subject Matter | Poem by Poem Analysis | Sample Answer


  1. Introduction and Biography
  2. Features of Dickinson’s Style
  3. Themes and Subject Matter
  4. Poem by Poem Analysis of 10 Poems
  5. Sample Answer

Introduction and Biographical Context

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA on 10th December 1830. Her father, Edward Dickinson was a lawyer and highly respected figure in the small New England town; he later represented Massachusetts in Congress. Her mother, Emily Norcross, was well educated and had a keen interest in the sciences before her marriage obliged her to focus on domesticity and raising her three children. Emily’s elder brother, William, followed in his father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. Her younger sister, Lavinia (‘Vinnie’) was very close to Emily. Emily was famously reclusive, and much of her life was spent in the house where she was born, known as The Homestead, except for a year away at Mount Holyoke College.

Dickinson has shown herself to be a sharp and curious observer of life and her education at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke seems to have given her a wide general knowledge combined with what became a lifelong interest in science and geology. Her knowledge of science was to lead her into conflict with the mainstream Christian beliefs of the day, which were also held by her friends and family. Calvinism, a form of Protestant Christianity in which only “the elect?, those chosen by God, will be ‘saved’, was dominant in her area at that time – a faith that had many powerful charismatic preachers and which held popular revivalist meetings in which new converts openly proclaimed their faith and transformation. Dickinson’s science teachers emphasised that new scientific discovery was evidence of God’s divine plan (what some today call Intelligent Design) but the poet’s natural...

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