I Never Came to You in White by Judith Farr, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
I Never Came to You in White

I Never Came to You in White

by Judith Farr
     
 

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This lovely fiction, by one poet about another, is cast in the form of letters that Emily Dickinson might well have written in 1847 as a seventeen-year-old student at Miss Lyon's Academy, where her teachers and fellow students found her original, witty, lovable ways beyond them. She struck them as little short of blasphemous in her expressed passion for the works of

Overview

This lovely fiction, by one poet about another, is cast in the form of letters that Emily Dickinson might well have written in 1847 as a seventeen-year-old student at Miss Lyon's Academy, where her teachers and fellow students found her original, witty, lovable ways beyond them. She struck them as little short of blasphemous in her expressed passion for the works of Shakespeare and for referring to the Bible as "literature." Other versions of Emily are revealed in letters exchanged between her first editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and a Miss Mann, who as a young teacher tried to instruct Emily in conventional Christian doctrine; in a letter from the only man ever to take her picture; in letters to and from her sister and her sister-in-law; and in letters from Emily herself, found after her death, to the person she addressed as " Master." The revelations accrue until the poignant ending involves every member of the cast of this dramatic book, which combines the thorough knowledge of

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sadly inadequate to its ambitious intent, this first novel attempts to bring Emily Dickinson to life via an epistolary format. When she was 17, Dickinson (1830-1886) spent a single year at Miss Lyon's Seminary, later Mount Holyoke College. Though little is known about this period of her life, Dickinson scholar Farr (The Passion of Emily Dickinson) strives for a composite portrait of the poet through a series of letters, some written during that year of 1847, others looking back on the poet's life after her death. The letters are so loaded with the facts of Dickinson's life, so heavy with digressions and so lacking in subtlety that they shriek of artifice. In particular, the correspondence between humorless Margaret Mann, Emily's English teacher at the seminary, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the poet's literary advisor and admirer, smacks of contrivance. The teacher tries to persuade Higginson of Emily's evil nature by relating her former student's "misdeeds," including the girl's blasphemous reference to the Bible as a work of literature and her refusal to "declare for Christ.'' In Emily's defense are Higginson's replies to Mann and letters the poet is imagined to have written to her brother Austin and childhood friends. Farr's perception of Dickinson is not surprising: she is an intense young woman who dares to question blind obedience to God, is passionate in her devotion to others, playful with language, irreverent and beyond most of her acquaintances' understandings. Most readers, however, will find her as trying as do most of her contemporaries. Farr does better with background detail, conveying the religious and social mores of the time. In an afterword, she sorts fact from fiction, detailing the poet's actual relationships with the novel's characters and specifying which poems are authentic and which she has "blasphemously but lovingly improvised." Farr's affection is obvious, but her portrait gives us stock figures who lack the dimensions of reality. Film, audio rights: Thomas D'Evelyn Agency. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Georgetown professor Farr brings considerable knowledge and a bold, fresh writing style to her first novel, a reimagining of events in the life of Emily Dickinson told via letters. The poet has been sent to Miss Lyons's Academy, where she is regarded as an oddity by the students and despised by a pious busybody of a teacher named Margaret Mann. Years later, Mann writes to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson's first editor, protesting his support of her work and proudly proclaiming "I tried to put a stop to Emily Dickinson." The increasingly heated exchange between Higginson and Mann is interspersed with Dickinson's correspondence with family, friends, and a "mysterious person" and letters sent home by a cousin complaining about being stuck at school with such a weird relation. The letters effectively weave a tale of Dickinson's troubled relations with the world and final withdrawal to her own select society, but though the poet was undoubtedly regarded as strange by others, here her naysayers seem like mere caricatures. We are left with an unpleasant feeling of self-congratulation that we know (and would surely have known) genius when it came our way. As a character, Dickinson can be a quirky delight, but the original was much, much better. For literary collections.Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
YA-Emily Dickinson's life and motivations have long been shrouded in mystery. Why was she so solitary and withdrawn in her adult years? Why did she never marry? Why did she always wear white? Farr offers her ideas in an epistolary novel containing letters from Dickinson herself, some from friends and relations, some from admirers, and a heated exchange between an embittered former English teacher and Thomas Higginson, the poet's publisher and mentor. Most of the letters concern the young woman's abortive year at Mary Lyon's Female Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College) in 1847-8. Dickinson is revealed as a spirited and spiritual student of superior intelligence. Miss Lyon's school, which presents her with fascinating scholarly challenges, also confines her adventuresome nature. Although the style of the novel forces some awkward scene-setting interpolations into otherwise natural letter-writing, Dickinson's spirit, loves, attitudes, frustrations, pranks, and poems (many written by Farr, but with a sound of Dickinson herself) are revealed. The scene is ably set for the strangeness of much of her later behavior, and the explanations are largely feasible. In addition to fostering a desire to know more of the poet's life and work, this short, quick read gives a vivid feel of women's education at the time and brings to life the religious revival of the period. While there is some speculation about homosexual leanings on the part of Dickinson herself as well as Mary Lyon, nothing is explicitly stated. An enjoyable exercise that should lead YAs to further interest in Dickinson and her times.-Susan H. Woodcock, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780395874424
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/15/1997
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
4.56(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.67(d)

Meet the Author

Judith Farr, professor of English at Georgetown University, is also the author of the definitive study The Passion of Emily Dickerson.

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