Lamenting Loss: Public and Private Grief in the Elegies of Poe, Dickinson, Alcott, and Crane

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Smith, Joy
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation analyzes the elegies of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), and Stephen Crane (1871-1900) by situating them within the literary elegiac tradition and the nineteenth-century "Cult of Mourning." Poe, Dickinson, Alcott, and Crane are products of both traditions, and their elegies express the private and public mourning of a loved one, a popular public figure, or a catastrophic loss.
The introduction defines the elegiac conventions and history, placing the nineteenth-century elegy in conversation with previous elegies by revealing shifts in form and treatment of the elegiac conventions. Chapter one contextualizes the elegy within the nineteenth-century customs associated with the "Cult of Mourning." Chapter two focuses on Poe's less frequently examined elegies--"The Sleeper" (1831), "The Paean" (1831; revised as "Lenore" [1843]), "To One in Paradise" (1833), and "To Annie" (1849)--as well as his most famous poems--"The Raven" (1845) and "Annabel Lee" (1849)--in order to explore the extent to which Poe's dark aesthetics influence his formal elegies. Chapter three progresses into the mid-nineteenth century by examining Dickinson's elegies and discussing her intellectual interest in death and nature, along with her skepticism of institutionalized religion, as influences upon her elegies. Chapter four positions Alcott in this tradition and treats the influence of Gothic and domestic literature in her works. The final chapter establishes the role that Naturalism plays in Crane's elegies and argues that the cynicism in his elegies anticipates Modernism.
This study reveals these poets to be products of both the elegiac literary tradition and participants in nineteenth-century mourning customs. In particular, this study underscores the significant contributions of Dickinson and Alcott to a largely male-dominated elegiac tradition. By focusing on the lesser-known works of these authors within their literary and cultural context, this study makes an original contribution to the body of knowledge on Poe, Dickinson, Alcott, and Crane as elegists and to our understanding of the interrelationship between literary and cultural expressions of mourning in nineteenth-century American literature.
Alcott, American Literature, Crane, Dickinson, Elegy, Poe