121 CHRONICLESndoor—that sole point of contact we had with our civilization,nthat lovely intricate human thing we had nevernseen — in terms of love in the highest sense. By laterncomparing notes with others, I found I was not alone innbecoming so noble and righteous in that solitude that I couldnhardly stand myself. People would willingly absorb physicalnpunishment rather than let it fall to their comrades; questionsnarose in my mind about the validity of the muchtalked-aboutninstinct of self-preservation. Solzhenitsyn describesnhis feelings of high-mindedness in his Gulag writingsnin words like these:nIt was only when I lay there on the rotting prisonnstraw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings ofngood. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the linenseparating good and evil passes not between statesnnor between classes nor between political parties butnright through every human heart, through allnhuman hearts. And that is why I turn back to thenyears of my imprisonment and say, sometimes tonthe astonishment of those about me, “Thank you,nprison, for having been in my life.”nWas I a victim? Not when I became fully engaged, gotninto the life of unity with comrades, helping others, andnbeing encouraged by them. So many times, I would findnmyself whispering to myself after an exhilarating wall-tapnmessage exchange: “I am right where I belong; I am rightnwhere I was meant to be.” In all honesty, I say to myself,nEMILY AND THE FEMINISTSnby Thomas P. McDonnellnThe centennial marking the death of the poet EmilynDickinson, on May 15, 1886, slipped quietly by ancouple of years ago without noticeable effect on the nationalnconsciousness. The media in general, from the Sundaynsupplements to the guardians of culture on PBS television,nwere not, on the whole, visibly impressed. It was annanniversary which ought to have been the occasion to admitnat last, in the waning of our own century, that EmilynDickinson has all but surpassed the most celebrated of thenNew England worthies. Emerson, the Sage of Concord, isnmore referred to than actually read; Thoreau has beennreduced to the huckleberry guru of an ecological cult; andnHawthorne, with Melville the only major American writernof his time to recognize the existence of evil in the NewnEden, wrote in a style which today seems too lugubrious fornthe modern sensibility to bear.nIf so enthusiastic a reader as Emily Dickinson was nondoubt familiar with both the prose and poetry of Emerson,nhe in turn was hardly aware of her presence as a poet. In anynevent, he would have recognized in her the genius that henhad attributed to Walt Whitman at the beginning of a greatnThomas P. McDonnell is a free-lance writer living nearnBoston.nnn”What a wonderful life I have led.” No two of us are thensame, but to me the wonder of my life is in escaping the lifenCaptain McWhirr had programmed for himself in JosephnConrad’s Typhoon: “to go skimming over the years ofnexistence to sink gently into a placid grave, ignorant of life tonthe last, without ever having been made to see all it mayncontain of perfidy, of violence, of terror.” And the authornadds, “There are on sea and land such men thus fortunaten— or thus disdained—by destiny. …”nPhil Rhinelander, my philosophy mentor at Stanford,ndied a short time ago. We were preparing a book together,nand consequently I was with him almost every day at thenlast. He sat up in his bed at home, surrounded by his booksnand papers, writing on a yellow legal pad, never mentioningnthe cancer in his liver which he knew would take him in anmatter of weeks (he was nearly 80). One of the last thingsnwe talked about was our agreement on a point we had eachnseparately stated publicly: “The challenge of education isnnot to prepare a person for success, but to prepare him fornfailure.” It is in disaster, not success, that the heroes and thenbums really get sorted out.nAlways striving for true education is the best insurancenagainst losing your bearings, your perspective, in the face ofndisaster, in the face of failure. I came home from prison tondiscover something I had forgotten; in my old Webster’sncollegiate dictionary I had pasted a quotation from Aristode:n”Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge innadversity.” I had lived in the truth of that for all those years.ncareer. It is ironic that Emerson was later to say of thennovelist Helen Hunt Jackson, author of the early best-sellernRamona (1884), that she wrote possibly the best poetry onnthe continent, regardless of gender. More ironically still, itnwas this very woman herself, also born in Amherst, Massachusetts,nwho, quite alone among her contemporaries, camento recognize and privately champion the superior andnstrangely different verse by a young lady who lived like anbachelor in her father’s house.nPerhaps too much has been made of the effect on EmilynDickinson of her several unrequited loves. Her all but secretnpassion, unaccountable for a woman in those days, was thenprofession of poetry. If, as an idealist of the romanticnimagination, Emily had found that kind of love which innmarriage must inevitably become domesticized, then in allnlikelihood she would have ceased writing poetry of the firstnorder. As for the profession of poetry itself, Emily’s kind ofncelibacy would prove to be as important to her, rightlynunderstood, as a similar order of absurdity and singlemindednessnmust be to the celibate priesthood. Whennwriting at the fullness of her powers, especially in the yearn1862, she clearly recognized the extent of her own isolationnand even put the gist of it in some very familiar, ifnsentimental, lines: “This is my letter to the World / Thatnnever wrote to me.” She was no doubt the loneliest poet innthe American literary experience. Not even the poet GerardnManley Hopkins, her contemporary in England, was moren