Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lyndall Gordon on Emily Dickinson

I just bought this book at Norli in Oslo, Norway, and I can't wait to read it. Lyndall Gordon, the author, is also the author of a well-documented biography on T. S. Eliot which I found interesting and balanced.

Earlier I have read the biography by Richard Sewall, which I can recommend. His book treated Dickinson's whole life, while this one seems to focus on her past few years, and the way her family's different intrigues affected not only her remaining years, but also the handing down of the myth of her life. One of Gordon's theses is that the family's feuds disturbed and restructured Emily Dickinson's legacy. Without a quarreling and intriguing family, whose members wanted to be the ones to administer and own the 'truth' about Emily Dickinson, there might not be such a mystery enveloping this poet today.

I probably wouldn't have bought this book if it hadn't been for the author. Many books on Emily Dickinson are treating rather obscure issues only, it seems, to earn some money on her famous name. And, of course, because so many books have been written about her already. This book might be one of those, but I hope that Gordon, who amongst other things is a senior research fellow at St Hilda's College, Oxford, is able again to balance a lot of information and possible rumours that might make this kind of book into a (better selling) pile of (more or less) baseless slander.

Anyway, can't wait to read it. It is always rewarding to read another person's take on poems you have read many times yourself. And, of course, the person behind the poems is set in a much bigger context than you yourself would be able to dig up if you were to read dissertations and history books and link everything together on your own. A book like this holds more interest to me than many novels. A book filled with citations of some of all time's most introspective, strange, innovative and ethereally beautiful poems and probably some background information of their issues and themes - how much more interesting can it get?

Update February 13th: I came across this article in the Guardian today, written by Lyndall Gordon herself. It seems that she is professing a theory about Dickinson quite similar to something I have thought myself for a long time: that the poet wasn't a shy and fragile recluse, but rather a passionate, inventive and decided person following her own tune. She did, as we know, write about "A still volcano life" in one of her poems, seemingly a good description of the kind of existence I imagine she had. Perhaps she decided that the only way a woman like her could live out her passion to write and be free, was to withdraw from society and its rather constricting rules of how to live and what to do.

"Uncomprimising", Gordon calls her. Seems like a good one-word summary of this intense and brilliant creature. And this sentence I love: "This woman was not like us: to know her is to encounter aspects of a nature more developed than our own."

Yes indeed.
Another update
: As I'm reading this book it turns out that it is actually a biography of Emily's whole life, but with her more as a part of the Dickinsonian circumference, the family's affairs, doings and dynamics etc. Which I think is a really good idea to portray the person in the poet in a fuller way.