SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va.—Four Shepherd University students presented their work during the 29th Annual West Virginia Undergraduate Literary Symposium, which took place virtually on February 27. English majors Isabella Sager, of Harpers Ferry; Celine Wilson, of Kearneysville; Madison Sites, of Petersburg; and Shelby Daugherty, of Buckhannon, presented via Zoom. Three of them focused on the work of American poet Emily Dickinson.
Sager presented “Emily Dickinson’s Paradoxical Variants: The Tension of Choice and the Other,” which looked at ways the word variants within Dickinson’s manuscripts affect the meaning of her poems.
“My thesis centered around the words of scholar Sharon Cameron, who claimed that Dickinson chose not to choose when it came to her variants, and as a result, created an open-ended poetic realm,” Sager said. “In many ways this invites the reader into the poem, yet, the strong voice of Dickinson’s speakers suggest otherwise.”
Sager said despite the COVID-19 restrictions, participating in the conference was a wonderful experience.
“Not only did I get to listen to other thought-provoking and enlightening essays written by other students, but I also was able to participate in wonderful conversations with professors and scholars,” Sager said.
Sites gave a presentation titled “In Light of Emily Dickinson’s Darkness: Fading into Eternal Rest,” which explored the depiction of sunlight and darkness in Dickinson’s poetry. Sites argued that although Dickinson recognizes that light and darkness are mutually constructive, she was especially disturbed by the blinding light of the sun and preferred a darkness that metaphorically fades into eternal rest.
“It was such a pleasant and wonderful experience,” Sites said. “Had it been held in person, I might not have been able to attend. It was fascinating to hear others’ passionate research. I also very much enjoyed being able to present and answer questions on the panel with my classmates.”
Daugherty’s paper, “Emily Dickinson: Representative of the Universe,” focused on poems that are better understood by reading them through a lens of occultism. The paper centered around the poem “I think I was enchanted” and sought to prove that it describes a supernatural experience. Daugherty drew parallels between the poetic speaker in Dickinson’s work to spiritual mediums as she exposed the poet for the pagan she was.
“I had been excited about my research all throughout the last semester, and having the chance to share my literary perspective was truly inexplicable,” Daugherty said. “Overall, I would describe this experience as eye-opening, as this was my first step in joining the literary community. I’d like to thank Shepherd University for providing me with this opportunity and I hope to have many more in the future.”
Wilson’s presentation, “Virginity and Fairytales in Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber,’” focused on the role of virginity in Carter’s story collection “The Bloody Chamber.” Wilson examined the significance of virginity in fairytales and how it is a tool that historically is used to oppress women. However, in Carter’s stories women become empowered through their loss of virginal traits and body.
“I thought that the conference was really nice,” Wilson said. “I enjoyed getting to be a part of an experience that celebrated literature and literary figures. It was interesting and enlightening to see and hear the different viewpoints my peers had about each of their subjects.”