Thus, by contrast with Bradstreet’s self-imposed humility, Fuller displays a very high-regard for herself, obviously influenced by the Transcendentalist movement which was centered on the self. In her writings and meditations, Fuller makes use of the Transcendentalist philosophy to extol the self and at the same time to promote the equality between men and women, which is a logical consequence of the privileged position of the human being and of the spirit in the hierarchy of the creation. In he poetry as well as in her essays and memoirs, Fuller’s most tackled themes are the position of Man in the universe, the importance of the human self, and the necessity for recognizing the place of women as equal to men in society. The gender hierarchy is thus one of the most poignant themes of her work. As Romano Carlin has shown, Fuller’s probably most competent critic, Charles Capper, defended her works against her detractors by showing that she deftly used the Transcendentalist philosophy of the self, to assert the equal importance of the female self along with the male: “He Capper demonstrates that Fuller ‘reconfigured’ Transcendentalism, advancing ‘a vitalist reformulation of the Transcendental alchemy that Emerson had presented.’ She did that by expanding its masculine, introspective tropes, its exaltation of the Imperial Self, in a cosmopolitan direction and toward freedom for women too.”(Romano, 5) the critics thus contend that Fuller’s work is not only the first female discourse in the literature of New England, but also a very important contribution to Transcendentalism through the addition of female subjectivity and insight.
One of Fuller’s most remarkable works is thus Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is at once a transcendentalist and a women’s rights manifesto. Combining her enormous erudition with personal insight, Fuller discusses at length both the place of the spirit, the privileged self in the universe, and the place of women in society. As a true female activist, Fuller advocates for the rights of women in society and criticizes their lowly position in her contemporary society, where their lack of freedom put them on a par with slaves. As Annette Kolody observes, Fuller is a true female advocate, who was extremely daring and revolutionary in her thought: “Fuller wrote graphically about women’s sexual bondage in marriage, condemned male sexual license, and insisted upon society’s moral obligations even to the ‘degraded’ prostitute, comparing the prostitute’s economic exchange of her body with ‘the dower of a worldly marriage’.” (Kolodny, 302) However, Fuller also goes beyond that, advocating that what women need is not merely the right to a different social status, but also the right to grow intellectually and spiritually, and develop thus into full selves, free and unimpeded: “Were thought and feeling once go far elevated that Man should esteem himself the brother and friend, but nowise the lord and tutor, of Woman,– were he really bound with her in equal worship,- – arrangements as to function and employment would be of no consequence. What Woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded…”(Fuller, 35) in one of her poetical works, called Winged Sphinx, Fuller describes the nature of the human spirit, such as it was seen by transcendentalists, as an entity far superior to the natural world (“brute nature”): “Through brute nature upward rising, / Seed up-striving to the light, / Revelations still surprising, My inwardness is grown insight. / Still I slight not those first stages, / Dark but God-directed Ages; / in my nature leonine / Labored & learned a Soul divine…”(Fuller, 103) in her view therefore, insight comes from inwardness and self-consciousness. Thus, she advocates also the self-consciousness of women and the importance it has for the growth of human society. As such, Fuller remains one of the first feminist voices in literary history.
Emily Dickinson is arguably a writer of genius with a genuine, extremely personal voice and one of the greatest female writers of all times. Dickinson’s poetry is remarkable thus for its original tone and also for the poet’s unparalleled and ingenious use of language. Perhaps surpassing most of her contemporaries in her art, Dickinson approaches a great variety of themes in her poetry. If Bradstreet asserted herself through her unusual erudition as a woman for her time and the very incipient feminine subjectivity and Fuller through her outright feminine voice, Dickinson represents, in a way, a step further for the female voice in literature. Her superb poetry is not directly concerned with gender issues, but her unique voice actually establishes a ‘feminine poetics’. Her sensibility and subjectivity are clearly feminine attributes, and this is demonstrated throughout her work through many poetic devices. Dickinson’s prolific work is hard to define and place in a category, because of its absolute originality. Perhaps the most poignant features are the gasping tone, filled with stops, absences and interruptions. Her orthography and her use of language are perhaps the most important marks of originality in her poems. Another specific quality of her prose is the abstractedness that characterizes it. Dickinson populates her poems with abstract entities which form her society. Thus, the celebrated poet obviously takes feminine consciousness to whole new levels, where the self is well defined in the maze of actual as well as abstract things. Karen Oakes shows thus that Dickinson manages to establish a feminine discourse especially through her use of metonymy through which she always creates a sort of intimacy with the reader: “I argue that Dickinson uses metonymy, and, in particular, the implied or stated ‘you,’ to seek a culturally feminine (that is, not merely female) discourse which establishes or presumes a process of intimacy with a reader. Her attitude toward this intimacy ranges from anxiety and hostility to hospitality.” (Oakes, 189) According to Oakes therefore, the female discourse can be differentiated from that of the males through its tendency to establish a dialogue with the other objects and beings and at the same time with the reader. By contrast, the male discourse is extremely self-contained and exclusive. Dickinson’s awareness of the self is so poignant that her poetry becomes extremely preoccupied with the masculine other, which is seen as a direct opposition. Although she does not always refer directly to the male world, all the other veiled references to abstract entities such as God, Master, King, Death, Emperor, Father and so on, obviously hint at the modern opposition between the self and the gendered other. McClure thus concludes that one of the most intriguing features of Dickinson’s poetry is the constellation of images that implies masculinity as a fascinating and omnipotent force: “Critics of Dickinson’s poetry have often been intrigued by what Joanne Dobson characterizes as a ‘particularly intense constellation of images, situations, and statement in her poetry that reveals an intriguing preoccupation with masculinity, and, more particularly, with a facet of masculinity that is perceived as simultaneously omnipotent, fascinating, and deadly.'”(McClure, 55) Indeed, some of her most famous poems, such as My Life Had Stood – a Loaded Gun or Because I Could not Stop her Death, associate masculinity with imagery of death.
Thus, the feminine consciousness is defined here through the stark opposition with the male world.
Also, Dickinson hints at her self-consciousness by declaring her incapacity to distance herself from her own art, and create pure, abstract art as tradition would have it. In the poem numbered 642 in her collection, Dickinson betrays her modern, feminine subjectivity that prevents her from writing objective, cold poetry: “Me from Myself — to banish — / Had I Art — / Impregnable my Fortress / Unto All Heart — / but since Myself — assault Me — / How have I peace / Except by subjugating / Consciousness? / and since / We’re mutual Monarch / How this be / Except by Abdication — / Me — of Me?”(Dickinson, 405) the poignant self-awareness and the opposition with the male other are clear signs of modern subjectivity. Through the themes approached and her poetic expression dwell in Possibility — / a fairer House than Prose –/More numerous of Windows — / Superior — for Doors — / of Chambers as the Cedars — / Impregnable of Eye — / and for an Everlasting Roof / the Gambrels of the Sky — / of Visitors — the fairest — / for Occupation — This — / the spreading wide of narrow Hands / to gather Paradise -“(Dickinson)
Dickinson, Emily. Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924
Fuller, Margaret. The Collected Works of Margaret Fuller. New York: The Modern Library, 1970.
Kolodny, Annette. “Inventing a feminist discourse: rhetoric and resistance in Margaret Fuller’s ‘Woman in the Nineteenth Century.’.” New Literary History 25.n2 (Spring 1994): 355(28).
McClure, Smith. “He Asked if I Was His’: The Seductions of Emily Dickinson,” in ESQ, Vol. 40, No. 1, 1994,…