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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Lady in White

Christian Bobin

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To purchase The Lady in White

Title: The Lady in White
Author: Christian Bobin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 80 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Lady in White - US
The Lady in White - UK
The Lady in White - Canada
La dame blanche - Canada
The Lady in White - India
La dame blanche - France
  • French title: La dame blanche
  • Translated by Alison Anderson

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Our Assessment:

A- : good, slender take on Emily Dickinson

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 25/6/2009 Marianne Payot

  From the Reviews:
  • "(C)'est à un voyage aérien que nous entraîne l'ermite du Creusot et du Très-Bas: sous sa plume alerte se dessine l'étonnant destin de la grande poétesse américaine" - Marianne Payot, L'Express

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Lady in White of the title is American poet and recluse Emily Dickinson, and this slim volume a typical reflective one by French author Christian Bobin, as much or more essayistic than in any way fictional.
       In short sections or chapters (untitled and unnumbered) Bobin presents episodes and times from Dickinson's life, filling in the details of her few relationships, within and outside, her family and giving a sense of the isolation in which she spent most of her life. "Humility was her pride, self-effacement her triumph", Bobin suggests -- and that: "Writing was its own reward".
       Of course, Dickinson's mastery makes it easier to suggest writing is its own reward: rarely does it burn so brightly. Bobin's presentation -- spare but exacting -- of Dickinson's genius is seductively convincing: summing up before describing one personal encounter, for example:

After only a few minutes Higginson was exhausted. Only madness can devour energy to this degree.
       Though so very short -- eighty pages, very generously spaced -- The Lady in White is significantly more than a biographical sketch. Indeed, it isn't sketch-like; it isn't a simple summary of facts and odds and ends. There is a surprising amount of biographical information, but what Bobin manages is to penetrate that life. In these short chapters Bobin dives in and plumbs the depths of Dickinson's soul. The sections have to be so short, because it is necessary for the reader (and author) to come up for air.
       It is a reading and interpretation of Dickinson, and Bobin goes at if from a variety of angles. So for example, fundamentally:
What was "real" life ? Father and daughter had two very different responses to the question. For the father, real life was horizontal: the train and telegraph were brought to Amherst, contracts were signed, men were connected to one another, and all of that, to the rhythm of their exchanges, caused wealth to grow. For the daughter real life was vertical: a movement from the soul to the soul's master -- for which there was no need of a railroad.
       They're kindred spirits, it must be noted, author and subject -- Bobin is also notoriously withdrawn, his writing also marked by concision (though nowhere near as pared-down as Dickinson's) -- and this also marks the text. Repeatedly he falls back on the first person plural, in generalizations that are more personal than, perhaps, always universal -- as when he suggests: "We all make a home of our own unhappiness".
Love and the void belong to the same terrible genus. Our soul is the terrain of their unsettled contest.
       Bobin is also exploring his own fascination with writing -- as its own reward, and more. He suggests:
Poetry is more than just a manner of writing: it is a way of finding one's bearings, turning one's life to the rising sun of the invisible.
       Dickinson seems to fit Bobin's poetic ideal -- summed up in a variety of ways here, including in the observation that:
Poets are pretty when a century has gone by, when they're dead and in the ground and alive through their texts. But when you have a poet in your home, a child who is in love with the absolute, shut away in her room with her books like some young wild animal in a divinely smoke-filled lair, how are you to raise her ? Children know all there is to know of heaven until the day they begin to learn things. Poets are children who have not been interrupted; they are sky-gazers, impossible to raise.
       Carefully and beautifully crafted, The Lady in White is a compact but weighty and resonant consideration of Emily Dickinson's life. Though Bobin is foreign, he is well-attuned to Dickinson, and his understanding extends surprisingly well even to the American matters.
       The Lady in White is a slim but significant addition to the literature around Emily Dickinson.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 February 2015

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The Lady in White: Reviews: Emily Dickinson: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Christian Bobin was born in 1951.

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