“Paper cities”: the magnificent confinement

November 3 is not just the fateful day of the American election, which risks escalating into civil war. There will be other events on this Earth. Yes, yes, we are assured. The award in Paris of the Femina Prize, for example. In the essay category, the magnificently poetic Paper cities by Québécoise Dominique Fortier, published by Grasset (in Quebec by Alto), also in the running for the Renaudot awarded a week later. But whether she wins or not, her hypersensitive work with the exceptional pen sparkles on the literary planet like a jewel of price.

An unclassifiable work, in fact, a phantom and fictionalized biography of the Massachusetts poet Emily Dickinson in the 19th century.e century, with parts of autofiction. Trial ? If we want. Novel ? Why not ? Everyone places it in the square they have chosen.

A rebel in her youth, a long recluse, traveling in her room and her garden in Amherst, this austere and exalted poetess, devoted to her muse like a mystic, hardly published during her lifetime and in a truncated way, later praised, remains a enigma. In 2016, Terrence Davies, through the beautiful film Emily Dickinson – A Quiet Passion, with Cynthia Nixon in the title role, tried to decipher it. We find it especially in his poems where death, nature, introspection, the quest for transcendence respond to each other. “The shore is safer, but I like to fight with the waves,” wrote this admirer of Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters. Extreme destiny than that of a voluntary cloister who rejected the poetic rules of time, in favor of short verses without the support of rhyme.

In these times of confinement, I invite you to find this Victorian woman of letters, whose inner life was a refuge. During the second half of her life, she addressed visitors only through a partition and wrote fleeting letters to an imaginary mentor. In New England, his wealthy, puritanical but understanding family, including his sister Lavinia, who was very present, acted as a bulwark against intruders eager to pierce his shell. Eight hundred poems will be discovered after the death of Emily, who died at 55 in the spring of 1886. She will have lived in a different world than ours, protestant and surly, where she will have in turn rejected the faith of her peers and tried to kiss her in her own way. People were dying around her like flies from typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever. How to find a meaning?

Emily Dickinson’s bubble

So, between his writings found in an anthology devoted to his quivering verses, why not dive back into The towns of paper by Dominique Fortier, published in Quebec in 2018 (finalist for the Prix des collégiens), before the French release this year at Grasset? The Quebecer has recreated so well through research and sometimes imagined the bubble of Emily Dickinson. Between family life punctuated by mourning, joys, depressions, her pleasures of herbalist, her talents as a cook, her literary discoveries, her readings, her bristling contacts with the outside world soon reduced to almost nothing, a life lights up. exceptional. Only one youthful photograph remains and another, unauthenticated, participating in its mystery.

She was self-sufficient, this woman in white clad in the Homestead Estate facing the cemetery, posthumously become a major voice in American poetry. Dominique Fortier understood it a lot by intuition: “Words are fragile creatures to pin down on paper. They fly around the room like butterflies. Or they are moths escaping from woolens – butterflies lacking in color and spirit of adventure, “writes the Quebec novelist, mistaken for the poet.

Dickinson had a herbarium and Dominique Fortier has been a bee-collector of his thoughts, his intuitions, the hours lost by the relentless clock and “the birds, the trees and the planets that inhabit his skull, that other secret chamber”.

Embracing thus several sections of her life in fragments, one is fascinated by her studies at the seminary of Mount Holyoke, where the future poetess affirmed in front of all her class that she did not hope to welcome the Lord in her heart. What a courageous profession of non-faith for her milieu and at the time!

Dominique Fortier writes very strong phrases about Emily Dickinson: “She needs so little that she might be dead – or never have been. And also “Emily writes about the world she inhabit, knowing it would be nicer if no one lived there. “

And this locked woman seemed to me to echo our confinements, but with an exaltation that will have dragged her into areas that only poetry could transcend.



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