Book Review: Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing

Like Katherine Joslin did with Edith Wharton, Daneen Wardrop ties fashion and academia together in Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing. The Dickinson that is often studied – the one portrayed within her poetry – shows her intellect and her exceptional handle on language. By analyzing often-dismissed aspects of the famous poet like her approach to clothing, Wardrop presents a more down to earth perspective on Dickinson, one that sees her not just as a talented writer but also in many ways a conventional woman living in an antebellum era.

There exist very few images of Dickinson, the best-known being a daguerreotype of her wearing a plain collared dress. Wardrop uses this representation as a starting-off point in answering the very pressing question: was Emily Dickinson fashionable? She then goes on to interpret other roles played by clothing in Dickinson’s life by studying her poetry, letters, general historical context and one famous white dress. Here her research often mirrors itself: Wardrop uses fashion as a tool to further interpret Dickinson’s life and work, then studies Dickinson’s life and work to understand the significance of fashion in this era. An impressive archive of mid-nineteenth century North Eastern fashion, including the labour practices behind textile production, is thus interwoven with biographical facts about Dickinson.

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