From the author:
biggest challenge to Dickinson scholarship
has always been to discover which specific life experiences conspired to
both the reclusive woman she was, and the dynamic poet she became.
This book concludes that Emily
Dickinson’s enigmatic poetry originated from
her personal exposure to incest, and examines how she used her craft to
make the transition from victim to survivor at a time when
the medical profession failed to acknowledge any damage related to this
event. A Wounded Deer is the first comprehensive literary
study of this issue.
investigates research into family background, evidence from letters and
poems, and testimony provided by people who knew Dickinson, and suggests
that the poet displays at least 33 of 37 “Incest Survivors’
Aftereffects” from E. Sue Blume’s checklist, a diagnostic tool used
internationally by many incest therapists; when a client exhibits over
25 of these behavior patterns incest is strongly suspected. Chapter 2 is
an investigation of the Dickinson
family dynamics -- it determines that the incest perpetrator was
probably her father,
Chapter 3 deals with the first stage of recovery, outlined by
trauma expert Judith Herman
as being the stabilization process. Chapter 4 is the second recovery
stage, the integration of memories.
And Chapter 5 is the final stage to restored health, the
development of a new self that is able to rejoin society.
completed stage 1 and 2, but was unable to complete stage 3 because she
could not reconnect with the outside world.
contributes a new understanding of the “omitted center” (Jay Leyda,
1960) at the heart of Dickinson’s work because it provides an access
key, allowing previously unfathomable poems to be understood as coded
complaints about incest, child abuse, and rape.
Writing was Dickinson’s way of
identifying the nature of her trauma, coming to terms with its impact,
breaking the silence to inspire future women writers, and reconstructing
a new persona, albeit from the sanctuary of her self-imposed isolation.
The Excursus examines what the poet might have discovered about sexual
abuse from the literature she read, and how she responded to this
information in her own work.
This section discusses The Bible, Shakespeare,
Eliot, and Barrett Browning.
From the readers:
“How many multitudes of women
have been terrorized into silence, withholding the truth of their
damning accusations rather than face the fear, condemnation and shame of
incest? In A Wounded Deer, Wendy Perriman bears
witness to the mystery and the transformative miracle of truth
simultaneously hidden and revealed in the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
Other women may engrave their
torment deep in the souls of their children.
Emily allows her soul to reach over time and space to tell others
tortured by life’s tragedies that they are not alone and in doing so the
Author of Creating
Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies
(New York and
London: Routledge, 1997)
“. . . . A Wounded Deer is well-worth reading:
its argument is clear, cogent, and at times riveting.
I recommend her book for the general reader who is curious about
the 19th century patriarchal world and its treatment and
abuse of young girls and women.
But I especially recommend it for those interested in
Although we will never fully know the truth of the poet’s life,
this study offers readers a very plausible suggestion of what may be at
the core of Dickinson’s ‘omitted center’.
According to Perriman, Dickinson’s ‘potential incest history alters the way her
poems are read’ and provides ‘one of the missing themes at the heart of
Author of The House
Without the Door: A Study of Emily
and the Illness of Agoraphobia
(New Jersey, London and
Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989)
“Using the latest developments in sexual trauma
history, Perriman carefully builds a detailed and thoroughly convincing
case for Dickinson as an incest survivor,
suggesting that her father, the righteous and respected Edward Dickinson,
was the culprit, and providing startling evidence that father-daughter
incest was not an unusual situation in the nineteenth-century . . . . As
well as being a superb example of the most careful and detailed
scholarship, A Wounded Deer is fascinating, clearly written,
difficult to put down, and a must for Dickinson scholars, psychologists,
and anyone interested in psychological interpretations of literature.”
President of the Fulbright Association and author.
“. . . . A Wounded Deer” will
stimulate discussion among those interested in
Dickinson, women’s literature,
Victorian literature, trauma studies, and survivors for years to come.
And that is as it should be.
Like the poetry of its subject, this compelling thesis is a
fascinating and revealing read.”
Blume, LCSW, Diplomate in Clinical
Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in
Women (New York: Ballantine, 1990)