For Mary Loeffelholz, English professor at Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Emily Dickinson’s significance lies in her ability to relate to readers, particularly in times of sorrow and mourning.
Mary Loeffelholz was reading The New York Times a few weeks ago when she came across a literary critique of Bob Dylan, who had recently become the first musician to win the Nobel Prize in literature. The piece praised Dylan as “one of the most authentic voices America has produced” and then went on to compare his lyrics to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, calling him “a maker of images as audacious and resonant as anything” in her oeuvre.
Loeffelholz, a Dickinson scholar and English professor at Northeastern University, found the comparison to be particularly appropriate. “While both Dylan and Dickinson based their work on the most common material,” she says, “they somehow found a way to inject it with the most incredible sophistication, surprise, and terseness.”
Loeffelholz is a former board member of the Emily Dickinson International Society, which was founded 1988 to promote the study and appreciation of the prodigious 19th-century poet. Her second book on Dickinson—published in June and titled The Value of Emily Dickinson— sheds light on why her poems have continued to live on in the hearts and minds of readers 130 years after her death in 1886. Unlike her first book, Dickinson and the Boundaries of Feminist Theory, it is less scholarly critique than focused attempt to address the poet’s longstanding literary value.