Poetic Verse and Prose Fiction
Perhaps the most obvious difference between James and Dickinson is their individual choice of literary genre; James is an author of fiction and Dickinson is an author of poetic verse. Yet, despite the stylistic differences between the compositions of their words, the works of the two are essentially similar in that each artist presents his or her reader with vivid imagery and complex themes, and though the delivery may be different, their works are equally powerful. One might look to James' own metaphor for the novel as a work of visual art, or a painting, so evident in the flowing passages of The Portrait of a Lady, or the dramatic and terrifying imagery of The Turn of the Screw, to understand the seemingly opposite, but ultimately similar relationship of his prose to the poetry of someone such as Emily Dickinson. For example, in the early passage of The Portrait of a Lady, in which Ralph and Isabel visit the art gallery together, James sets the scene beautifully, utilizing typically long, flowery sentences that describe the shadows and shading of the gallery in such detail that it is nearly a visual, rather than mental, experience. Describing what some might find to be tedious details, such as "the vague squares of rich color," "the polished floor of the gallery," or the specific position(s) of a candlestick, James writes a passage that is a work of art, about works of art, both paintings and people. Like any great artist, the author utilizes these richly textured descriptions to illuminate a central message or theme, as in this instance the reader is better able to grasp both Ralph as observer and Isabel as judge; in other words, this passage is not simply aesthetically pleasing, but also an imperative, vital part of the work, or more appropriately, the big picture of the novel. In a sense, a passage such as this represents a single stroke of the brush, in a series of strokes that compose the stunning literary portrait of Isabel Archer, a portrait James uses to convey his themes of choice, thought, action and even obsession.
In contrast to James' style, Dickinson, utilizing poetry, rather than prose, as her chosen medium, uses simpler words and usually only a few lines to express themes which are equal in complexity and power to James' works, but which are more immediate in their affect. Perhaps "They shut me up in Prose -" best defines Dickinson's views on the subject of prose and poetry, comparing prose to a "closet" and to being in "captivity." As a poet, Dickinson sees prose as a prison and poetic verse as the emancipation from the prison; poetry is her freedom from structured (and male-dominated) prose. Still, like James, Dickinson is a painter of words, but while James writes often realistic, detailed portraits and landscapes, Dickinson writes in short bursts of color, in close-ups of the world and her own psyche. "Soft as the massacre of suns" and "'Twas my own Glory -" exemplify Dickinson's ability to say a great deal in only a few short words; filled with quick, immediate imagery, these are very visual poems, and pack quite an emotional impact (If James' prose is the Mona Lisa, then Dickinson's poetry is Mona's smile, grinning back at us). Another example might be "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died," in which Emily Dickinson conveys the abstractness and nothingness of, as well as the loss associated with, death, in four stanzas in a manner equal to the empty finales of "Daisy Miller" and, in particular, "The Beast in the Jungle," where Marcher truly cannot "see to see" the truth of his existence until the end, when he must surrender to the dark. Ultimately then, prose and poetry, for Dickinson and James, are simply different avenues to similar thematic endpoints.
When comparing poetic verse and prose fiction we see one major difference: the way in which the material is delivered. Although both Dickinson and James share the same themes and virtues in their writings, they are separated and emphasized differently through their deliveries. In Dickinson's poetry we see the expression of mostly one singular emotion throughout any given poem. She concentrates on one thing at a time in order to give each issue or virtue its due respect. Short bursts of emotionally charged energy are what give Dickinson's poetry its distinction. On the other hand, James writes in prose, which uses a more subtle approach to get across the meaning of a work. His prose develops methodically and gradually in its use of themes and virtues. This allows him to use a plot and story to interweave these themes together in one singular work. The best example I can provide is using the theme of beauty. James adored beauty and purposely created his stories so that beauty would be present throughout the work while also touching on other subjects. He wanted his novels to be viewed as beautiful works of art throughout their entirety. Then you have Emily's poetry, which, instead of being developed slowly, her intentions and views hit you with an "in your face" attitude that leaves no mistake about her feelings. She only focuses on the subject at hand, as is evident in "Beauty - be not casual - It Is -". Notice how her view of beauty is the only focus of this poem. She uses her own personal expressions in poetry to describe beauty, whereas fictional prose uses the opinion of fictional characters to express the same thing. This is the major difference between the two.
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