Rebooting Emily: Dickinson in biographical fiction
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This thesis examines four biographical novels about Emily Dickinson – The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn, I Never Came to You in White by Judith Farr, Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor, and the short story “EDickinsonRepliLuxe” from Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates. The thesis will look at what it is that these books do which is biographical, and whether we gain any insight into Dickinson’s life from fictionalising that we did not know before. What are the tools of biographical fiction the authors use, what do they invent, and what image do we get about Dickinson? First, there will be an introduction of the biographical person Emily Dickinson, definitions of biography and biographical fiction, and a discussion of how these genres relate to Dickinson and these four books. The next four chapters discuss each of the novels before the conclusion sums up the discoveries. Some discussions include how the genre might influence a reader’s perception of Dickinson as a biographical person, but also her epistolary and lyrical production; how the novels may add to our understanding of the poet’s writings; and motivations for writing a biographical fiction. The originality of this thesis lies partly in its attention to Emily Dickinson as a subject of biographical fiction because very little has been written about this now. Lastly the thesis discovers and argues that there are two ways of writing biographical fiction – one which stays more closely to the facts, and one where the subject is used as a device for exploring inner life and the story is thus not wholly reliant on biographical facts.