Five Women Writers Who Changed the World
By Lyndall Gordon
An exciting and provocative look at the women who wrote the novels that changed the literary world - Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Virginia Woolf - by the renowned biographer of Emily Dickinson
Outsiders tells the stories of five novelists - Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner, Virginia Woolf - and their famous novels.
We have long known their individual greatness but in linking their creativity to their lives as outsiders, this group biography throws new light on the genius they share. 'Outsider', 'outlaw', 'outcast': a woman's reputation was her security and each of these five lost it. As writers, they made these identities their own, taking advantage of their separation from the dominant order to write their novels.
All five were motherless. With no female model at hand, they learnt from books; and if lucky, from an enlightened man; and crucially each had to imagine what a woman could be in order to invent a voice of their own. They understood female desire: the passion and sexual bravery in their own lives infused their fictions.
What they have in common also is the way they inform one another, and us, across the generations. Even today we do more than read them; we listen and live with them.
Lyndall Gordon's biographies have always shown the indelible connection between life and art: an intuitive, exciting and revealing approach that has been highly praised and much read and enjoyed. She names each of these five as prodigy, visionary, outlaw, orator and explorer and shows how they came, they saw and left us changed.
Lyndall Gordon is the prize-winning author of six biographies,including Lives Like Loaded Guns:Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds and The Imperfect Life of TS Eliot, and also Shared Lives, a memoir of women's friendship in her native South Africa. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and lives in Oxford where she is a fellow of St Hilda's College.
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- Publication date:
26 Oct 2017
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Gordon is a natural storyteller, and the lives stir us and fascinate us no matter how well we already know them . . . full of novelistic insight, pushing into the biographical material to substantiate her hunches, tracing patterns and repetitions in these writers' emotional lives and in their work — Tessa Hadley, Guardian
Gordon succeeds in showing not only the pain but "the possibilities of the outsider" . While distinctive in their voices, these writers converge "in their hatred of our violent world", exposing domestic and systemic violence. Their strength of spirit shines from the pages and through the ages — Anita Sethi, Observer
Impeccably researched . . . an excellent read — The Lady
Lyndall Gordon's empathetic commitment to the unfolding story in the lives of literary figures is central to her work — Daily Telegraph
The work and lives of Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf are well known. Gordon's thesis sets out just how original and brave they were - and at what cost. We owe them much — Joan Bakewell, New Statesman
In subtle and elegant interpretations, Gordon allows us to see their novels 'afresh'. The pattern she traces in their writing is equally striking: each woman refused, as Gordon puts it, 'to make terms with our violent world', and this is what makes their voices so modern . . . She is a biographer of the imagination as opposed to a recorder of historical facts. — Frances Wilson, Mail on Sunday
Thought-provoking . . . enticing — Erica Wagner, New Statesman
Gordon's book is a pertinent reminder of the risks each of them bravely faced in order to save themselves from
the fate of a Maggie Tulliver or a Judith Shakespeare and leave posterity with their remarkable works
— Literary Review
Gordon rallies the reader to look to these five as the trailblazers and inspiration for our own lives. — Emerald Street