Wednesday, September 29th, 2010...5:26 pm

Can We Risk the Abyss?

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Emily Dickinson, age 9. Detail from O.A. Bullard,The Dickinson Children. Dickinson Room, Houghton LibraryOn October 12th, noted biographer Lyndall Gordon will speak at Houghton Library. Her talk, “‘Abyss has no biographer’: Can we risk the Abyss?” will focus on her recently published biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives like loaded guns: Emily Dickinson and her family’s feuds (2010). The book has stirred some controversy by proposing that the poet suffered from epilepsy; and it goes beyond the traditional biographical boundary of the poet’s life in telling the story of the publication of Dickinson’s works following her death, and the “feuds” that ensued.

The talk begins at 5.30 p.m. in the Edison and Newman Room, Houghton Library. Admission is free, and open to the public. This event is sponsored by the Modern Books and Manuscripts Department, Houghton Library; the Woodberry Poetry Room; and the English Department, Harvard University. For questions, please contact Modern Books and Manuscript Department, Houghton Library at 617.495.2449 or

Lyndall Gordon is no stranger to the Houghton collections. She draws on them not only in her Dickinson biography, but was also a frequent visitor when writing her earlier biographies of T.S. Eliot and Henry James. A native of South Africa, Gordon studied history and English there and American literature at Columbia University in New York. For many years she was a tutor and lecturer in English at Oxford, where she is now Senior Research Fellow at St Hilda’s College. She regularly participates in summer writing seminars at Bennington College in Vermont. The title of Gordon’s talk comes from a letter written by Emily Dickinson in 1884: “To attempt to speak of what has been, would be impossible. Abyss has no Biographer-Had it, it would not be Abyss.” (L899)

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