Transatlantic Group: Marta Werner, "Reading the Archive in a Rapt Hour: Dickinson’s Master Documents"

October 4, 2019
3:30 - 6:00 PM
Tawes Hall, Room 2115

For more than half a century, the story of Emily Dickinson’s “Master” documents has been the largely biographical tale of three letters to an unidentified individual supposedly to tell a story of Dickinson’s broken heart. The new edition The Master Hours tells a different story — two large aims of the present project are to re-enter the “Master” documents as far as possible in the flow of time and to re-world them by imagining them again as they may have once lain on the ever-changing surface of Dickinson’s desk. To these ends, rather than presenting the “Master” documents as quarantined from Dickinson’s larger scene of textual production, this new edition proposes reading them next to Dickinson’s other major textual experiment: the Fascicles or self-made manuscript books. In both of these writing experiments Dickinson can be seen testing the limits of address and genre in order to escape bibliographical and biographical determination and the very coordinates of “mastery” itself. While the opening materials ground the presentation of the documents historically and textually, the closing meditations approach each of the documents as a singular, complex “organized world of meaning” and a “deep map” of experience, emotion, and memory. An experiment in what might be called “intimate editing,” The Master Hours applies maximum energy to the reading of a few exceptional documents in the hope of preserving the mystery of both their visibility and their hiddenness.

Marta Werner is author / editor of Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing (U of Michigan P, 1995); Ordinary Mysteries: The Common Journal of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne (with Nick Lawrence) (American Philosophical Society, 2006); Radical Scatters: An Electronic Archive of Emily Dickinson’s Late Fragments and Related Texts (U of Michigan P, 1999; Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, U of Nebraska, Lincoln, 2010); and The Gorgeous Nothings (with Jen Bervin) (New Directions, 2013). Her work on Dickinson’s manuscripts is equally a meditation on the nature of our “archival longings” and an investigation into the ways in which documents reveal the sometimes unexpected connections among social contexts and even create genealogies between the living and the dead. In her most recent publications Werner explores the land-, sound-, and weather-scapes of the 19th- century. A recipient of both the Fredson Bowers and JoAnn Boydson Prizes for her textual scholarship, Werner currently serves as the editor of Textual Cultures and on the advisory boards of The Emily Dickinson Journal, the Dickinson Electronic Archives 2, and the Emily Dickinson Archive. Werner has just completed work on a new edition of Dickinson’s “Master Letters”—The Master Hours—for the Amherst College Press. She is currently the Martin J. Svaglic Chair of Textual Studies at Loyola University, Chicago. 

For more information contact: Martha Nell Smith (