'To shut our eyes is travel': nineteenth-century imaginary travel and Dickinson's virtual Europe

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In an October 1870 letter Emily Dickinson told her friend Elizabeth Holland: “To shut our eyes is Travel” (L354). As Dickinson is usually a figure associated with reclusive confinement rather than worldly travel, this aphoristic comment has not received a great deal of attention, even though travel and geographical imagery pervades her writings. However, important recent scholarship on nineteenth-century virtual travel offers a new way of understanding the function and frequency of global references and the travel motif in Dickinson’s work as her means of representing psychological complexity, imaginative possibility and nature’s inexplicability. Drawing on this new research, this essay examines contemporary examples of armchair or fireside travel by Ik Marvel and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow before focusing primarily on the regularity and specificity of Dickinson’s references to Europe and to journeying there. Summoning up virtual travel’s nineteenth-century associations with being neither here nor there, being both out of and inside a specific location or situation, and occupying an objective and subjective position simultaneously, the essay highlights her construction of speakers whose topographical and experiential spaces are transatlantic ones of duality and liminality. Dickinson’s virtual Europe emerges as a set of relations between presence and absence, actual and imagined, and local and foreign that informed US daily life and identity in ways that unsettle contemporary nationalist discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-96
Number of pages35
JournalThe Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2018


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