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My Wars Are Laid Away in Books:
In an excellent literary biography that matches the standard set by his earlier book, The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr., Alfred Habegger brings a modern perspective to bear on the life and art of the great American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) while respecting and lucidly conveying her own distinctively 19th-century views. Like the groundbreaking 1970s feminist reassessments of Dickinson, this text avoids portraying her as a quaint, ladylike homebody (the stereotypical "Belle of Amherst"), and instead stresses her powerful personality and the strategies she employed to transcend the limits placed on her by Victorian society and a domineering father. Even though as an unmarried woman she was expected to stay close to home, Dickinson opted for a life of seclusion, thereby avoiding the social responsibilities foisted upon middle-class women of her day. Habegger does not minimize the fact that Dickinson was a very peculiar woman, particularly as he chronicles the middle years during which her unconventional attitudes hardened into the mannerisms of a local "character." But his primary focus is always on the genius that transformed her personal dilemmas into art. His sensitive, acute handling of her writings, with frequent quotations and careful analysis, fulfills one of the key functions of a literary biography: it makes you want to run out and reread Emily Dickinson's poetry right away. --Wendy Smith [via]