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My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinsonby Alfred Habegger
Synopses & Reviews
Emily Dickinson, probably the most loved and certainly the greatest of American poets, continues to be seen as the most elusive. One reason she has become a timeless icon of mystery for many readers is that her developmental phases have not been clarified. In this exhaustively researched biography, Alfred Habegger presents the first thorough account of Dickinsons growth-a richly contextualized story of genius in the process of formation and then in the act of overwhelming production.
Building on the work of former and contemporary scholars, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books brings to light a wide range of new material from legal archives, congregational records, contemporary women's writing, and previously unpublished fragments of Dickinsons own letters. Habegger discovers the best available answers to the pressing questions about the poet: Was she lesbian? Who was the person she evidently loved? Why did she refuse to publish and why was this refusal so integral an aspect of her work? Habegger also illuminates many of the essential connection sin Dickinsons story: between the decay of doctrinal Protestantism and the emergence of her riddling lyric vision; between her fathers political isolation after the Whig Partys collapse and her private poetic vocation; between her frustrated quest for human intimacy and the tuning of her uniquely seductive voice.
The definitive treatment of Dickinsons life and times, and of her poetic development, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books shows how she could be both a woman of her era and a timeless creator. Although many aspects of her life and work will always elude scrutiny, her living, changing profile at least comes into focus in this meticulous and magisterial biography.
From the Hardcover edition.
"While this 764-page tome lacks the elegant prose and psychological insight of Richard B. Sewall's 1974 National Book Award-winning biography of Dickinson, Habegger provides a useful resource to the poet's admirers and students, incorporating feminist scholarship that has emerged over the past three decades into his narrative of her life. With access to a more definitively dated oeuvre as well, Habegger attempts to draw connections between Dickinson's writings and the events in her life more decisively than have other scholars. It's a risky enterprise: whether addressing a specific correspondent or no one in particular, the poet offered precise analogies for her emotional states, yet withheld so much information that it's often nearly impossible to determine the situation of a given poem. Readers can project any story they want onto her work, but, in the end, the most responsible biographical approach entails providing a context for her writings without insisting on point-to-point connections." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"In My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, Habegger has brought together a couple of generations worth of scholarly work on the life, texts and time of Emily Dickinson, and he has applied it all in a generous rereading of her unforgettable poetry." Los Angeles Times
"By weaving together a chronologically integrated reading of Emily Dickinson's poetry and correspondence, Habegger has written the most complete and satisfying biography to date of a poet long shrouded in myth and illusion....Yet for all he has to teach, Habegger finally warns his readers against expecting complete understanding of a poet who hid her poetry from her own family and who defied future generations with riddles and paradoxes. A superb study, too luminous to remain the exclusive property of specialists." Booklist, Starred Review
"Making perceptive use of feminist scholarship of the past three decades, the firsthand reports of Dickinson's intimates and careful readings of her lyrics and letters, former University of Kansas English professor Habegger creates a newly complex portrait of the poet's life (1830-86) and greatly enhances our understanding of her art....Habegger rejects the traditional view that Dickinson's work and life were static; 'her poetry shows a striking and dramatic evolution,' he declares, and his immensely satisfying narrative makes the largely interior struggles she conducted over the course of 55 years just as dramatic." Publishers Weekly
Includes bibliographical references (p. -739) and indexes.
Offering a convincingly clear picture of what Emily Dickinson was really like, Habegger presents the definitive treatment of her life in the context of her times and the development of her poetry.
About the Author
Alfred Habegger, formerly a professor of English at the University of Kansas, lives with his wife, Nellie, in northeastern Oregon. His previous books include Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature and a prize-winning biography, The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr.
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