Between the lines: Essays One by Lydia Davis


Graphic by Reagan Baughman

Paris Cantu

The first of a two-part series, “Essays One” by Lydia Davis is a dense volume of 502 pages. She pays close attention to the minute details of literature, language and art. The pieces date back to the 1970s, with the most recent one from 2017. The essays range from a page and a half dedicated to a study of the word “gubernatorial” to picking the bones of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.” She writes with conviction, a quality that many modern essayists lack within their prose.

Davis began her craft as a short story writer and has since published collections and novels. She has also worked as a translator of French, Spanish, Dutch and German works. She has translated the works of Flaubert, Proust and Cervantes, and she has worked to restore the original musicality found in their mother tongues.

She professes her ambition as a twelve-year-old girl when claiming The New Yorker as the future home for her words. She describes the discovery of her literary influences in acute detail. In her twenties, she studied Kafka’s diaries and gives credit to “the window they opened into Kafka’s mind—his combination of fictional invention and more mundane daily preoccupations, particularly the way his fictions grew organically out of his daily life.” These same organic attributes are present in her writing, connecting our often prosaic way of life to the words found on a page.

In Davis’s new work, she brings fine fruition to the centuries-long canon of American literature. Her knowledge of literature and understanding of the writing process combined with her expertise in foreign languages creates an outcome that is now a staple in many American libraries.