“In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power”
Poetess Emily Dickinson – one of the greatest minds in the history of English literature lived and died in relative anonymity. Her poetry- touted unpublishable by a critic during her lifetime -endures to this day, incomparable in its originality and appeal.
Dominique Fortier in her book Paper Houses brings to focus the reclusive life of Emily Dickinson. Emily turned away from the traditional roles of wife and mother, choosing instead her heart’s desire to observe and understand the world around her.
This book is written in a series of vignettes, offering short, fleeting glimpses into Emily’s life, similar to perhaps a flip book. Here is Emily in the garden feeding a robin, here she is at school, there she hides away from unwanted visitors. However, in spite of the brief, staccato nature of the text, Fortier’s writing is so fluid and evocative that the prose is in effect poetry.
Later in life, Emily withdrew from society drawing her personal boundary closer and tighter till she could no longer leave her house. Content to spend the rest of her life in her garden and amidst her books, Emily felt at home in her solitude. Almost 150 years later, Dominique Fortier draws parallels between her and Emily Dickinson’s restlessness to belong as she describes her sense of displacement and the struggle to truly find ‘home’ once she leaves Montreal for Boston.
In conclusion, this lyrical yet strangely written book will hit you with the full force of a gale. It is powerful and haunting, recounting a life lived all those years ago yet still alive in pages of poetry.
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