An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett

Helen Smith. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-28112-0
Smith, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, offers a superb biography of Edward Garnett, an English critic and editor who was best known for discovering and nurturing literary talents, among them Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, and T.E. Lawrence. Beyond exploring Garnett’s influence on a range of prominent early 20th-century authors, Smith probes Garnett’s difficult marriage with translator Constance Garnett, his affairs with other women, and his own attempts at authorship. Smith, as Garnett would have appreciated, has an eye for the telling detail (she describes a portrait of him with “his head inclined slightly to one side as if considering his response to a recent remark”), and her book paints a textured picture of what life was like for people of Garnett’s milieu. She offers insights too into Garnett’s critical consciousness, influenced by Russian writers and ever enthusiastic when encountering a fresh voice: he found, for example, an early draft of T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom “astounding.” It’s rare that the subject of a biography is as evidently generous and full of integrity as Garnett, so Smith has to work to find the flaws whose depiction is necessary to creating a balanced portrait; despite the mentions of his infidelities, readers will end up loving Garnett. With Smith’s fine sense of pacing and a fascinating subject, her book both delights and informs. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2017
Release date: 12/12/2017
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-0-374-71741-4
Paperback - 456 pages - 978-0-374-53799-9
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