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Fiction Contemporary Women

Pale Shadows: A Novel of Emily Dickinson

by (author) Dominique Fortier

translated by Rhonda Mullins

Coach House Books
Initial publish date
Feb 2024
Contemporary Women, Biographical, Historical
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2024
    List Price

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Dickinson after her death: a novel of the trio of women who brought Emily Dickinson’s poems out of the shadows

A story of the power of books in our lives and the people behind them. A story of the making of a book, the first collection of Dickinson’s poems, and the women who brought her work out of the shadows, navigating the male publishing world with no standing of their own.

Grieving the loss of her sister and alone in a big house, Lavinia goes through Emily’s things and wonders what to do with her sister’s poems. She enlists the help of Susan, Emily’s best friend and brother Austin’s wife, who rouses herself from a deep depression to put the poems into some order to approach a publisher. Lavinia also brings Austin’s mistress, Mabel, into the project for her worldliness and connections. In the wings, there is Millicent, Mabel’s daughter, a little girl like Emily in spirit, wise and strong-willed, and fascinated by things big and small in the world around her.

Delicate like lacework with dark threads running through it, Pale Shadows picks up the story of Emily Dickinson where Paper Houses left off, to explore the place of women in history, their creativity, and the enduring power of Dickinson’s poetry.


About the authors

Dominique Fortier is an editor and translator living in Outremont, Quebec. Her first novel, Du bon usage des étoiles (2008), was nominated for a Governor General's Award and the Prix des Libraires du Québec, and Au péril de la mer won the Governor General's Award for French fiction. She is the author of five books, four of which have been translated into English: On the Proper Use of Stars, Wonder, The Island of Books, and Paper Houses.

Dominique Fortier's profile page

Rhonda Mullins is a Montreal-based translator who has translated many books from French into English, including Jocelyne Saucier’s And Miles To Go Before I Sleep, Grégoire Courtois’ The Laws of the Skies, Dominique Fortier’s Paper Houses, and Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s Suzanne. She is a seven-time finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation, winning the award in 2015 for her translation of Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals. Novels she has translated were contenders for CBC Canada Reads in 2015 and 2019 and one was a finalist for the 2018 Best Translated Book Award. Mullins was the inaugural literary translator in residence at Concordia University in 2018. She is a mentor to emerging translators in the Banff International Literary Translation Program.

Rhonda Mullins' profile page

Editorial Reviews

“I was as delighted by this book as I was by Paper Houses, in part because I was happy to return to the lacework world Fortier creates with her voice. … This handover between writers in time is the essence of literature. Because books do not die. That is the only consolation of mortals who read.” – Chantal Guy, La Presse

“Dominique Fortier’s sixth novel, Pale Shadows, is enchanted. […] It is meant to be taken in slowly, savouring each sentence.” – Ariane Cipriani, Culture Club

“This luminous story brings us closer to Emily Dickinson’s poems, ‘leaves the light shines through,’ and closer to the inspired grace of Dominique Fortier.” – Monique Roy, Chatelaine

Paper Houses and Pale Shadows are the positive and negative of a single image, two facets of the same story.” – Léa Harvey, Le Soleil

“A novel filled with figments and ghosts, the living and the dead, words and silence.” – Yvon Paré, Littérature du Québec

“I can’t remember on what page I started to read Pale Shadows out loud, but it happened naturally. What I was left with, even more dazzlingly still, was the beauty of Dominique Fortier’s prose and of Emily Dickinson’s poetry … Pale Shadows is an elegant, delicate book, a treasure for your bookcase.” – Marie-Anne Poggi, Club des irrésistibles


Other titles by Dominique Fortier

Other titles by Rhonda Mullins